Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mad Destruction: "Cultural Cleansing"

Destroying the Past 
"Reports of the destruction of Baal Shamin temple on Sunday came less than a week after IS militants beheaded Khaled Asaad, who worked as head of antiquities in Palmyra for over 50 years. The 81-year-old scholar had been detained and interrogated by Islamists for more than a month." (DW.com, August 25, 2015). Yahoo/Getty image, Baal Shamin destruction, below.   
So ISIS terrorists,  inhumane savages, really, have used sledge hammers, power tools, assault rifles, tanks and explosives to destroy the priceless antiquities of Iraq and Syria, the cradle of civilization from which come our major religions and cultures on the planet.  They are laying ruin to mankind's shared heritage. They have destroyed ancient artifacts, temples and shrines, the architecture and archeaological sites of ancient cities, most of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, most over 3,000 years old. 

They gloat that they are killing false idols in the name of their Sunni Allah.  I think the desecrations stem more from a propaganda and political agenda, however, than a religious one.  In any case, they are heinous acts, which the terrorists film, document and share on social media, gleefully, with the intent to shock and awe the world.  They do. Like filming the hundreds of beheadings of journalists and anyone they deem "infidels," so sickening and disgusting in every way.  

Historical and human obliteration in one fell swope. It's hard to believe we live in the 21st century, and this patriachal devastation is still going on. I look at Hubble's awesome images of the endless universe and wonder: How can the universe be so grand, so large, and the minds of men so small?  We seem to learn nothing from history. We repeat the same mistakes over and over. The human propensity toward evil is never ending. The struggle against it always falls short.

Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, has labeled the mass destruction of ancient religious and cultural heritage sites "war crimes" and "cultural cleansing."  Yes, and to what end?  They are certainly  "an immense loss for humanity."   Yes, and who can stop it?

The latest victim is the Baal Shamin temple in Palmyra, which dates back to the early first century and is dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rain.  It came a week after ISIS butchers beheaded 81-year-old Khaled Asaad, the chief of antiquities in Palmyra for over 50 years.  (DW.com, August 23, 2015)  

Khaled Asaad, an 81-year old scholar, who hurt no one, who only helped preserve humanity's heritage, tortured and beheaded. 

These tragedies follow the similar heartbreaking desecration and destruction of Christian and Shia World Heritage Sites in Mosul, Nimrud, and Hatra in neighboring Iraq. Every depraved act brings horror and outrage.  The disgust multiplies, the feelings of helplessness in the face of evil grows.  What can be done?  We're trying to bomb ISIS into oblivion, but is this the way to go?  Can you destory evil with bombs?  

ISIS is "erasing cultures from the memory of the world."   These antiquities are just bricks and sandstone and mortar, but they embody the aspirations and achievements of our past, the actions and dreams of real people in real time.  They hold countless stories that connect humankind in a great chain of being. 

The chain has been broken.  It is terribly sad to witness this rampage of destruction, this evil obliteration of our past and its defenders, with no end in sight.  
  
Interesting Sources:
http://radioshacab.com/articles/2991/Why-ISIS-is-destroying-Syrian-and-Iraqi-heritage-sites-VOXCOM

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/09/world/iraq-isis-heritage/
"ISIS continues to bulldoze its way through the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, releasing a new propaganda video showing its fighters destroying Iraq's ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in March 2015." 


Friday, August 21, 2015

Pope Francis, "Care for our Common Home," and my brother Loren


"Francis' handling of tradition and modernity privileges neither, but rather produces a workable synthesis of their contributions."
Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, "Francis Agonistes," The New Republic, March/April 2015 

Illustration, Steve Brodner,
"Francis Agonistes,"New Republic.
It seems that my brother Loren went with me to hear Fr. Jim Bacik talk about the Pope's new Encyclical on the Environment and Climate Change. These were issues dear to Loren's heart, and wherever he is now, I know they still are. That's why I'm sure Loren feels kindly toward this son of Italian immigrants to Argentina who took the name Francis, after a saint who worshipped nature and all creation.

I knew this Pope would be different when he took that name.  Fr. Bacik says the same thing. The first Pope named Francis. Also, the first Pope from South America and maybe the first to work for so long among the poor, in the slums of Buenos Aries, that sprawling capital city that straddles urbanity and a prehistoric and Spanish colonial past, cultural diversity and artistic creativity, political complexity and economic disparity. One can't be steeped in and shaped by such a dramatic culture and not develop a distinctive way of looking at the world.

And so Francis brings to the papacy a unique Weltunsheung, in the fullest meaning of that loaded and nuanced German word. Literally, a different worldview. He sees the world through a different lens than his predecessors. Some fear it; some welcome it.

A natural leader, accessible as well as formidable, compassionate as well as politically savvy, Pope Francis forges ahead where angels fear to tread, as Fr. Bacik noted with both gratitude and amusement. His pronouncements, on inequality, materialism, unregulated capitalism, and now climate change, upset conservative Catholics, politicians and pundits, and raise hope among social justice workers, the poor, progressive thinkers. His answer to a question about homosexuality, "Who am I to judge?" encompasses this volatile spectrum.

Not that the Pope is changing Catholic doctrine. He's not John XXIII.  "It seems rather that Francis inspires uncomfortable feelings, and affronts particular dispositions rather than particular doctrine," said Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig in her brilliant New Republic article "Francis Agonistes."   Pope Francis stands on the border of tradition and modernity, "privileging neither," honoring both, urging us to explore and consider a broader view of the world.

Fr. Bacik, in explicating the content and purpose of the environmental encyclical, affirmed that view. Francis' mission is to encourage discussion and promote new ways of thinking about hot-button issues. He is fearless and assured, wrapped in the cloak of St. Francis himself and the traditions of the Church, unruffled by criticism and anxiety.

My own take on this is similar, informed by my brother Loren's unique worldview. The Pope understands that change takes place from the bottom up.  He knows this through his experiences in working in urban slums, imbibing the spirit of Liberation theology, developing an economic and political analysis of causes and consequences. He understands that change begins with the needs of the people, ordinary people, the disenfranchised, and that it becomes institutionalized and enforced from the top down only if you educate and change public opinion.

Yes! This is what Francis wants to do, Fr. Bacik said: educate, enlighten, probe and prod. "It's his passion," to open up the way we look at and address critical contemporary issues, which he knows first-hand and sees as interrelated. This encyclical on the multi-dimensional crisis of climate change caused by human activities advances this mission. It's the first encyclical devoted entirely to ecology.

Wow, I thought. My brother Loren, the compassionate ecologist who talked endlessly about saving Mother Earth, must be celebrating with like-minded spirits somewhere.  Some say that would be in heaven, which I want to believe, but I'm not sure where he is.

I know Loren lived this philosophy, and took it to a higher level.  He saw, with insight informed by extensive reading and study, including a Master's degree in Social Ecology, and a mind wired for nontraditional perspectives, that we had to address these problems in order to get to the fundamental cause of them all: the dominance of Patriarchy and patriarchal thinking in the material world.

Someone in the audience, a former co-pastor with Fr. Bacik at Corpus Christi church it turned out, actually raised the issue, to my amazement.  It jolted me. Good heavens, Loren is in this room!

"The Pope's not ready to take this on," Fr. Bacik smiled, as if anticipating this question from this colleaque, who I immediately felt was my brother incarnate.

"Pope's on the right path," I thought I heard Loren reply. He's laying the groundwork needed to unpeel the layers of age-old myths and conditioned belief systems that cover up the issue at the heart of the matter. The Pope is close to this truth, stifled over the generations, that there is a goddess as well as a god who oversees our world, a feminine holy spirit that softens the harshness of patriarchy, that respects the very source of life itself, the Mother, the Giver, the Healer.  "If there is a God, then there must be a Goddess," Loren would argue in the face of daunting disbelief.  Actually, he went further than that, envisioning God as the Goddess, the Goddess as God, God and Goddess as one.

From the Encyclical: Eco-spirituality
joins care for the material world and the poor.  
"Well, let it be," Loren muses, now more attuned to cosmic than earthly time. It's a good start to acknowledge that we have inflicted harm on Mother Earth, disrespected and denigrated her, and that we need to come together and do something about it. The Pope recognizes that we are part of  "a universal communion in which everything is connected." It's the wisdom of Chief Seneca, the worldview of America's indigenous peoples in their relationship with nature.  "And a universal communion that includes a goddess spirituality, a feminine holy voice," Loren adds.

Eco-spirituality honors the common good. All
 creatures are interconnected and must be cherished..
Fr. Bacik's voice breaks through these reflections. The pope in his encyclical urges us to see beyond the "technocratic paradigm" that blinds us to a more "ecological spirituality." He urges us to move beyond materialistic and utilitarian views of the world that focus on profit, consumerism, and greed. The "eco-paradigm" that Francis puts forth respects our natural world, cares for the earth and its inhabitants, offers paths to growth, human development, and social justice.

"Yes, so close, so close." Loren interjects. Just a little tweaking here and there. The Pope could, for example, substitute the broader term "patriarchal paradigm" for his use of the term "technocratic paradigm." Instead of using the term "ecological spirituality," he could talk about "goddess spirituality."  It's the same thing.  Maybe he doesn't know it; maybe he doesn't believe it. But if he took his own advice, opened his mind to a different point of view, he would see it.

"Now that, my friends, would signify a real revolution in consciousness and human relations, and save our planet!"  Such a revolution would move the entire world, our whole precious planet, toward tenderness, mercy and harmony, toward peace and justice, toward mothering all God's children and every creature on earth, toward saving what truly is our "Common Home."

One of the Francis agonistes quoted in Bruenig's article, Steve Moore, chief economist at The Heritage Foundation, accuses Francis of being an adherent of a "modern pagan green religion."  Loren smiles, nods. "Moore is on to something!"

Remembering Loren: Being with Loren, his autobiography, our grief, our memorial.



    

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mug Shots

I pour myself a cup of morning joe, my usual wake-up ritual, and stand staring at my mug collection. Each mug tells a story of different places in my life, I realize, as I stand silently in the early light of day.  I have many more mugs, but these are the ones I'm looking at.

cafedumonde.org
That Cafe du Monde mug (top left) took me back to a humanities meeting in New Orleans and my days with the DC humanities council.  I walked around New Orleans with colleaques, enjoyed the street scenes and jazz, savored beignets and chickory coffee at Cafe Du Monde in the French Market.

The angel mug was a Christmas present from the kids, reminding me of my brother Loren. The one next to it was a gift from friend Barbie Britsch after a trip to Portugal. Barbie loved theater, literature and drama, and it's in the mug.  We bought mugs for souvenirs at Stratford's Summer Shakespeare Festivals, too; I have a beauty somewhere bearing the striking image from a Mikado poster.  Mugs as souvenirs and gifts: a constant in our lives!

John & Mabel Ringling's
 grand mansion, Sarasota, FL.
The middle group of four also goes way back. The first mug tells of wonderful visits to the Ringling Bros.Circus Museum and Ca' d'Zan, the elaborate mansion of John and Mabel Ringling, in lovely Sarasota, Florida. It was the winter home of the Circus. A gorgeous spot. Florida's natural and built environments were full of surprises for this Yankee transplant, and this was one of them.  I must admit that mug also held unpleasant memories of mean-spirited people. Florida Noir. That's not just Florida, my sister reminds me, ever loyal to her state; that's life, the good, the bad and the ugly. True, and what lessons it teaches. The mug brought up a range of emotions.

The Nantucket mug next to it, with sea and sails, brought only smiles and happy reveries. My kids remember the sights, sounds and scents of that little island 30-miles off the Massachusetts coast where they spent so many summers as kids. Carefree and comfortable.  I picked a bunch of white hosta flowers from Elissa's apartment garden the other day, and she said, "Wow, Mom, they smell like the honeysuckle along the lane to the beach in Nantucket!" Yes, they did!

The stoneware mug at the end of that row, sand colored and sturdy, also came from the island, part of a dinnerware set created by a Nantucket ceramic artist. One of the things I loved about Nantucket was the art and creativity it embodied and evoked, like the beauty of the sea grasses, wild flowers, and bayberry on the moors. We stood on the deck of the ferry as it approached Nantucket harbor with such anticipation and joy, the horn sounding, the church steeples glistening on the horizon.
Me and Andy in San Miguel. With Elissa and with Josh, below. 

The bottom group begins and ends with my beloved Mexico.  The cup and creamer were part of a whole dinner set made in Dolores Hildago near San Miguel de Allende, brithplace of Mexican independence and one of my favorite places on earth to soak in culture. I loved sharing San Miguel with my grandkids Julia, Tony and Josh, with my daughter Elissa, and with my sister Andy. Only a few pieces of that Talavera pottery set remain, but the memories are as bright as a Mexican sunset over the Parroquia. I look foward to more visits with family members.
At the Grand Canyon
The Talavera bookend Southwest USA memories, with lots of similarities to the colors and culture of Mexico. That middle mug I think is from Arizona. Or it could be from New Mexico, Utah, Colorado.  Yes, this one little mug holds more than coffee; it symbolizes my love of the American Southwest, and America's state and national parks. California experiences pop up too!

So my mug shots morph into memories, which happens a lot as your life moves on at the speed of light and the decades mount.  Am I living too much in the past? Maybe.  But the thought pushes me in the direction of making NEW memories--new family, travel, and life experience memories.  A trip to Amsterdam and Sicily with Andy is around the corner in late October.  And more birthdays and holidays, more volunteer activities and community events. I'll have to get some new mugs, too, reminders that life is a never-ending adventure.      

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Saga of the Sebring: A Family Drama

The car I bought.
I bought a 2004 Sebring a few years back, soon after moving from Ukraine to Toledo to be closer to my children and grandchildren.  It was a sporty Chrysler convertible, low mileage, nice features, formerly owned by famous Toledo restauranteur Tony Packo, his "Florida car."  What a deal!

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. My grandson Josh and I had gone to Rally's for $1.00 hamburgers, cruised next door to the Honda dealer to look around, and saw the car. It kind of jumped out at us. It was so beautiful and shiny. I bought it, thinking maybe Josh could use it when he got his driver's license in a few months. That was the extent of the thinking that went into buying this car. "Those were expensive hamburgers," I later joked with Josh.

But as it turned out, it wasn't a joking matter. That car was loaded with lots more than a pretty body and elegant design. It was loaded with symbolism.
The car as symbol. 
Symbolism?
That's right, symbolism.
What did it symbolize?
It symbolized the metaphysical "pink elephant in the room."  The mistakes, shortcomings and misadventures of our lives that affect everyone but that no one wants to address. Truths that are being ignored.
The car it became.
The responses to the pink elephant drifted out slowly. A comment here, a remark there. A misunderstanding now, a miscommunication later. Just like old times. It brought up issues.

A car did all this?
Yes, it morphed into a whole new purpose.
So what was the problem?
Well, okay, it boils down to this: The 2004 Sebring was not just about getting a car.  It was about the way the decision was made, why the decision was made, who was involved in the decision, who should have use of the car, who was in the driver's seat.
The car as healing process. 
Wow, those really are important issues.
I know.  They seemed to emerge from the depths of our unconscious behavior. Those old family dynamics. They meant different things to each of us, and we were at first adamant about our own perceptions. And so the car set the stage for some meaningful working out of lingering unresolved issues. We had to get that pink elephant out of the way.

Did it happen?
Yes, it did. It got discussions going.  It took time and lots of effort, which we were each willing and ready to make. It wasn't easy. It created tension and distress at times. But we persisted; listened to each other; broke through lots of stuff, that old baggage that gets in the way of growing.  You could say we opened the hood, put the top down and let fresh ideas in.
Letting the sunshine in..  
So the car did it's job!
I think so. It helped put us on the right road. Relationships are always a work in progress. But we have more tools, more understanding, more openness, and  I won't have to buy another car.  I feel blessed. I am grateful. I hope my daughters feel the same way.

The car as memory.

I sold the Sebring today.
Oh no! After all that drama.
Yes, it served its purpose.
It was a great little car. It was worth every penny, every argument, every discussion, every insight. What's more important than that?  It's the reason I moved to Sylvania in the first place, to be closer to my children and grandchildren, closer not only geographically, but also emotionally. That's the lesson that the Saga of the Sebring taught me. That's what it was all about. My kids and I have never been closer.  And the Sebring is becoming a memory.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

East and West: Thomas Merton and Zen Buddhism

Ancient Buddhist monastery in Sarnath, India, where the Buddha went to teach upon achieving enlightenment in Bodh Gaya (c. 480 BCE). I visited Sarnath in the late 1980s
on an amazing trip to India, traveling from Delhi to Jaipar to Agra (and the Taj Mahal)
 to the holy Hindi city of Varanasi on the Ganges river, and on to Sarnath almost by
accident, because we didn't know it was there until a guide directed us.  
Buddha statue. Vendors
 sold these, claiming
 they were real antiques.
 Incredible India.
The interconnections between East and West evoke a kind of exotic wonder. Such different ways of looking at the world and understanding our places in it. In that mindset, and with vivid memories of a visit to India that never fade, I went to Lourdes University to hear Fr. Jim Bacik talk about Catholic theologian Thomas Merton and Zen Buddhism.

Merton and the Dalai Lama, India, 1968,
that fateful year in history, and the year
 Merton died. wikicommons.
Merton wrote at least three books about his search for understanding Chinese wisdom traditions (Confucianism and Taoism) and Indian mystical traditions (Hinduism and Buddhism).  He had long-time conversations and correspondence with scholars like John Wu, an expert on Taoism and guru Chuang Tzu, and with D.T. Suzuki, a Japanese expert on Zen Buddhism. Merton read and studied, stayed engaged with Eastern thought, and went on a fateful trip to Asia in 1968. There he had a three-day dialogue with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, and another deeply religious experience in front of a great Buddha statue in Sri Lanka.

Fr. Bacik covered a lot of ground.  He noted that before leaving for Asia, Merton had said he was "going home where I have never been before." His kinship with Buddhism was that powerful.  He spoke of a oneness. When praying before the Buddha statue in Sri Lanka, he experienced a sense of "spiritual validity fusing together in one aesthetic illumination."   Not that Merton ever abandoned his Catholic faith. He went to Asia as a prilgrim, Bacik noted, "to become a better and more enlightened monk."

That's why it seems ironic that Merton's time in Asia marked the end of his spiritual quest on earth: he was electrocuted in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968.  He was alone after a series of talks, hoping for a respite from the heat and a quiet moment in the solitude he craved. He found it, forever. An accident.

Perhaps more ironic, and serendipitous, is the fact that his body was flown back to America on board a U.S. military aircraft from Vietnam carrying soldiers returning to their final resting place. 1968. That fateful year. Merton and the Vietnam War. The war he spoke against. The war Americans came to hate. The war with no aim, no hope, only death.  Who knew that this Catholic monk, a seeker and spiritual guide, accompanied them? "God works in mysterious ways..."

Fr. Bacik is a wonderful lecturer and has a loyal following of intellectually curious souls.  He fills up a room, on many levels. Sparks fly, quietly but fervently.  He doesn't need notes, powerpoint, other aides.  It's enough to share his extraordinary knowledge of Christian theology, Catholic theologians, and Catholic traditions in an orderly and compelling way.

This talk on Merton and Zen Buddhism was brilliant, complicated. It was also I thought exceedingly humble, especially in the dramatic dialogues Bacik constructed between himself and the Zen Masters and between them and the audience. Bacik used examples from our daily lives--of people who are overly busy, overly ambitious, overly needy, anxious or fearful--to demonstrate the process of Buddhist metaphysics, the Buddhist way.

No answers, really, just dialogue, give and take, thought and counterthought, each illustrating and illuminating the ways of being mindful, the power of being in the now, the process of emptying one's mind and expanding one's consciousness.

That's hard for us left-brained intellectuals and scholarly types to comprehend, let alone practice, I thought. We want to ask questions and get answers; if we ask a Zen master how to achieve enlightenment, we want to know how to do it. It's disconcerting to be told, go and wash the dishes, as in an example Bacik gave.

The Brahma Temple in Pushkar,
a white city, a Hindu holy city.
I once dared to ask a question of an orange-robed monk walking along a lake in Pushkar, India, an incredibly beautiful Hindu city, white and glistening. We happened upon Pushkar by accident,  just like we happened upon Sarnath. I asked this monk, who walked alongside me, how I could understand India's religions better, a general question. He didn't answer; a slight smile, and then he put out his hand, inviting me to give him some rupees.  I did, but I didn't know what to make of it. I didn't know monks of any religion did that. I felt I shouldn't ask questions.

I felt the same in Sarnath (photo at top), where I met Buddhist monks on a path. I wasn't about to kill any Buddhas on the road, as some have been said to advise! I was overwhelmed with the ancient spirit of the place, and the gritty commercialism of it.  Giant stupas called us to stop, look, and listen, while frenzied vendors yelled at us incessantly to buy from them. The vendors sold everything imaginable, including little clay statues of the Buddha, desparately wanting something from us bewildered tourists. We were overwhelmed in a sacred place.

Fr. Bacik's lecture took me back there, to those very perplexed moments in my life. To this day, I have no answers, and to this day I don't push it.  I somehow got a powerful message to go along, forget the questions, and let life flow. That was the lesson I learned in India. Perhaps that's a lesson Thomas Merton learned as well, although his accidental death leaves us without his words or his wisdom, with only the silence of a spiritual journey stopped in its tracks.

"We could concentrate more on making a good effort and less on achieving results," I heard Fr. Bacik saying.  His voice broke through my reverie. I was back in the now. I took three deep breaths. Sure, we could "try," I thought to myself, coming out of the deep recesses of memory.

Fr. Jim Bacik
"Well, yes, that's right! Yes, I agree. We can try," he responded affirmatively, as if reading my mind and speaking directly to me, having the kind of dialogue I had once hoped to have with real Buddhist monks.

"We might not achieve Buddha mindfulness," Bacik continued, "but we can seek balance in our lives, let go of the past, let go of our earthly desires, let the future take care of itself, accept life as it comes."

And thus Fr. Bacik moved us onto familiar terrain.  This we can do. Seek balance in our lives. This is a good place to be, to consider meaning and purpose, our own beliefs, and the mysterious ways our lives move on through time.  An intersection of Eastern and Western thought, in harmony.

Fr, Bacik had taken us on the very same journey that Thomas Merton had taken all those many years ago.  The same path, in the same way. We experienced a form of Merton's "aesthetic illumination!"  I was deeply moved. Merton would be satisfied, I thought.


Note: This is a personal blog; all information about Merton is from Fr. Bacik's lecture and the notes he distributed on the lecture. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Making Summer Memories: Our Long Lake, MI Vacation

The cabin from the lake, the lake from the cabin. 
We discovered a hidden gem of a vacation spot.  Michelle and I had been looking at Michigan lakes north of us for a few weeks, when she mentioned it to a co-worker who knew of someone who knew someone who rented a cabin on a lake.  The cabin was on Long Lake, not north but due west of us near the Indiana border, in Reading near Coldwater, MI. Never heard of it, but it was only an hour and a half away. Perfect distance! We checked it out online, the lake and the cabin, liked it, thought about it for a day. Michelle decided to go for it.  I helped by saying "Let's do it!"

And so we spent a wonderful week, the last week of July 2015, in a small but cozy cabin with every amenity and great caretakers, a short car ride away through pretty countryside, and situated on a picturesque lake that could be on the cover of  a "Travel Michigan" magazine.

The kids played in the water every day, most of the day.  We played yard games around the cabin. Josh drove to Toledo to work his 5-10 pm UPS job, then come back at night a few times; he loved it. Alli came with her German Shepherd Kato for an afternoon and overnight. Julia came on Friday to pick up Philip, and got to cruise the lake on the pontoon boat we all enjoyed. We lit the fire pit near the lake at sunset, watched the stars fill the sky and a full Blue Moon rise. We sat in awe, relaxed, blessed. We roasted marshmellows, novices at making a fire at first, better by week's end with Alli's help.  And what's a camp fire without s'mores! Michelle made sure we had them. She and the boys used the paddle boat several times, then found the pontoon boat even better for cruising around the lake, seeing the pretty houses and gardens, spotting turtles, watching swan and geese glide by. Kyle was our boat captain, but Josh, Philip, and even Chase, took turns at the helm. They all loved the water. Couldn't get enough. Their lake paradise, and ours.
From top left, the Capri drive-in; Julia & Philip on a pontoon cruise; the boys in the boats and in the water; lake views, a Blue Moon, our cabin from the pontoon; and me watching the world go by.

Philip on the dock at sunset
and moon rise.

We also found plenty to do around Reading and Coldwater, Michigan, historic towns on the old trails west.  We went to a real outdoor drive-in movie, the 1950s Capri, which the kids found fantastic and I remember fondly. We went "antiquing" at an old barn, where the boys each found something special. Philip adopted an old teddy bear, got a small glass kitten for his mom, and found a little wind-up ghost toy for me, such a special gift. What an eye for his Nana Franna's wind-up toy collection, inherited from friend Barbie Britsch! Kyle discovered antique Coke and Vernor's bottles, vintage designs, great logos. Chase hung onto an old toy car.  We went to Adventure World for go-carts and miniature golf.  We stopped at a roadside farmer's stand for fresh corn, peaches and blueberries, devoured in one day pretty much.  We ate outside every day, on the lovely deck with a gas grill, usually joined by the friendly neighborhood dog Blackie, a laid-back black lab.  The kids made new friends a few houses down. Hours of  water play, delight, fun and, for the grown-ups, pure relaxation.


"We're making summer memories," Michelle reflected, as we sat by the fire, watching a gorgeous sunset. The clouds pink, the colors golden and pastel.  "Maybe we could have a cabin like this one day," Josh added. "Something to dream about," I thought.  "We're making dreams, too," Michelle said, as if reading my mind.  "Dreams can be realized. Dreams can come true."

For sure our Long Lake, MI vacation will stay with us for a long time, long enough for some dreams to become precious realities for my children and grandchildren.


Some early fall colors emerging, their reflection shimmering
in the golden light of the clear lake. 

Long Lake, MI is a series of lakes connected by various channels and canals.
 It's clean and clear, reflecting the landscapes and foliage.
We even saw the full moon shimmering in the lake.  In the lake! Amazing.
Mesmerizing.  The bottom is marshy close to shore, with plenty of seaweeds,
but people who know the lake swim out towards the middle. The kids didn't mind
playing near the shore at all. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Wealth and Income Gap: Who has faith in the American voters?

"You have to connect the dots
and understand how many troubling
things are interwoven." Robert Reich
"Despite what many Americans assume, the United States actually has some of the lowest and longest-stagnating rates of economic mobility in the rich world – significantly lower than many European countries. This fact should be of concern to both Democrats and Republicans as it hinders this country’s economy.
How has this happened? For a start, the minimum wage has lost much of its purchasing power, and hasn't kept pace with inflation. Indeed, the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is lower now than it was in the late 1960s, while wages at the bottom end of the scale have fallen in recent decades, even as worker productivity has grown."   Sen. Alan Lowenstein, D. CA, to CNN, Feb. 2015
I've been following this issue of the ever-widening wealth and income gap in the U.S. for some time. Sen. Alan Lowenstein and other politicians have too, along with journalists and commentators. I'm paying more attention to Robert Reich's articles on the issue.  It truly is a shocking disparity and as Reich and others note with alarm it is destroying the middle class, imbalancing our economy, and harming our democracy. It is benefitting a few huge corporations, mega-banks, multi-national giants now merging into fewer and fewer monopolies, and billionaire employers and individuals who have amassed unlimited wealth and unlimited political power to call the shots for the rest of us.  It's scary.

Reich says it has taken America right back to the late 19th century, when the rich ruled. He's right.  And so are his conclusions that we need to take back our rights to a decent life and the American dream, where ordinary people and workers have a living wage and the giants are restrained. http://robertreich.org/post/110555525570.  People who work should not be poor.  Economic growth is not growth if it hurts workers and benefits only a few billionaires. Reich concludes:

"...As we learned a century ago, markets don’t exist in nature. They’re created by human beings. The real question is how they’re organized and for whose benefit....Ever since around 1980, even though the economy has doubled once again (the Great Recession notwithstanding), the wages of most Americans have stagnated. And their benefits and working conditions have deteriorated.  This isn’t because most Americans are worth less. In fact, worker productivity is higher than ever. / It’s because big corporations, Wall Street, and some enormously rich individuals have gained political power to organize the market in ways that have enhanced their wealth while leaving most Americans behind. /That includes trade agreements protecting the intellectual property of large corporations and Wall Street’s financial assets, but not American jobs and wages./Bailouts of big Wall Street banks and their executives and shareholders when they can’t pay what they owe, but not of homeowners who can’t meet their mortgage payments. /Bankruptcy protection for big corporations, allowing them  to shed their debts, including labor contracts. But no bankruptcy protection for college graduates over-burdened with student debts./Antitrust leniency toward a vast swathe of American industry – including Big Cable (Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner), Big Tech (Amazon, Google), Big Pharma, the largest Wall Street banks, and giant retailers (Walmart)./But less tolerance toward labor unions – as workers trying to form unions are fired with impunity, and more states adopt so-called “right-to-work” laws that undermine unions.  / We seem to be heading full speed back to the late nineteenth century. 

He's right, but who's listening?  Not enough of us. Not the majority of Americans, who seem to be suckered into sideshows and media dramas.  This is where I am sinking into despair. The facts don't matter.

Will Americans wake up and face reality, or will they fall in line behind big money politics and continue to vote like sheep being taken to slaughter. Will they see beyond media hype and hysteria, beyond inflated rhetoric and hate? Will they listen to the facts, open up, gain some perspective, at the very least vote their own self-interest?

It's all up to the American people. I must say I am not as hopeful as I once was. These are the same voters who elect contentious, extremist politicians to their state legislatures and to the U.S. Congress, the house and the senate.  The same voters who have given us Rep. John Boehner, Ted Cruz , Scott Walker, Joe Cotton--elected officials who will not compromise, who have no respect for the presidency, who slant the truth to their own ends, who are bought by the NRA and the Koch brothers and wealthy corporate lobbyists.  America is in trouble.  And the enemy is within.