Maybe Boris is Right

Maybe Boris is Right

If we could consider this virus unemotionally, just turn on our logic, we might think that Boris Johnson, PM of the UK, had a valid point in terms of just letting the virus run its natural course, that perhaps his first thought was best. If we had done enough tests, if we really knew the numbers – who gets seriously ill, who is most likely to die no matter what treatments we try, how many serious cases occur in each age group, how many people as a predictable percentage are in each group. It would be good to know if the seriousness of the virus falls out by age and by underlying health conditions, what those underlying conditions are, and when it is useless to keep trying to save someone.

If this disease is most serious for seniors, do seniors really want everyone to turn their lives, our society, and the global economy upside down on their behalf? Most of us have already signed DO NOT RESUSCITATE orders. Is putting someone on a ventilator part of the ‘do not resuscitate’ protocol? Are we trying to prolong our lives unnaturally, using expensive equipment that actually makes the end of life unnecessarily traumatic both for the dying and for the families? Making someone as comfortable as possible while they are dying is humane, but most people do not want to stay here if the quality of our life is essentially gone. Perhaps it’s time to think about a euthanasia order, similar to the ‘do not resuscitate’ order for people who are mentally able to choose.

Already young people feel that the older generation just will not step aside so that they can have their chance to lead. Already seniors are a financial burden on younger people. We are told that Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable. Perhaps this pandemic is a reminder that humans can’t live forever, and that some of us are living beyond our natural expiration date only because we are being kept alive by extraordinary measures. These measures don’t keep us youthful and allow us to contribute to the richness of life as we would like. They simply sustain us in a state of animation that our loved ones appreciate because we never want to let go of loved ones. But are seniors, so expensively sustained, happy with their lot.

My mom lived to be 100. She had good days, but many days she would say to me, “why am I still here.” I certainly didn’t want her to leave but modern medicine, which could keep her alive, was not doing very well at helping with some pretty ordinary things, like hearing, seeing, eating. When your ears fail (hearing aids cost a mint and often don’t work well, batteries have to be changed constantly), and your eyes fail, and your teeth don’t work and you just cannot face getting a new set, medicine is not performing any miracles to keep us living to an old age that has quality. Life is precious. It holds so much  beauty that when you think you might lose it even things that seemed ugly are suddenly beautiful. It is the only consciousness we are aware of. We don’t know what comes next, if anything. Kudos to those who believe that in heaven there are many mansions, but even people of faith cling to this earthly awareness.

I’m reading Patti Smith’s book The Year of the Monkey which seems like just about the perfect book to read right now. It is written in a kind of wacky stream of consciousness style which is sometimes other-worldly, sometimes autobiographical, and sometimes brilliant. “Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to live..” she quotes from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and my mind says “trippy.” I cling to life as much as anyone. But I also feel that we are trying to hold back the tide. Obviously people with plenty of money will be able to fight harder, use more strategies, more medical equipment to prolong their lives. Either way this seems so unreal at times. Is this really happening? Which way is the right way to handle this? Will the steps we take to keep down the numbers of the dead kill even more people in the end from ‘culturas interruptus’, (a made-up word) but it certainly expresses the tack we are taking at the moment? What to do, what to do? Show us the numbers please and then we can offer educated input.

 

 

What Coronavirus Teaches US

Coronavirus or COVID-19 is teaching us some lessons that have nothing to do with health and, at the same time, everything to do with health, and survival, and how we may have to conduct our lives on Planet Earth. I believe we can say that the lines that separate nations on our maps are not barriers to some invaders, like diseases, viruses, toxins perhaps. Particles that move through the air have no boundaries. They know nothing of nations, barricades, or even walls. Even biosphere-style bubbles with filtered air might not do the trick.

So I think that what we see happening with COVID-19 incontrovertibly contradicts Trump’s America First view of the world. Clearly it is impossible to see the world as anything other than global. Everything is interconnected. Someone eats a rare animal in China and now we are all deep in the midst of a pandemic. This disease does not seem to affect the young and the healthy very seriously. It affects those who have health problems, weak immune systems, or all of the above especially in seniors who are most at risk. So this might just be a “cull the herd” virus, not the apocalyptic virus it could have been. Yet. But with 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, apocalypse does not seem far away and many have already intimated that a pandemic might be the cause.

We need to think about the earth the way eagles do, the way even ordinary birds do, not as separate nations but, for the sake of order and safety, as one unit – land, water and air – all one continuous geographical unit, therefore requiring global oversight of some kind. This does not have to signal the end of nations and separate governments. We just obviously need more global cooperation and less global competition. From here on out we all rise together or we all fall together. But we will not heed this warning. We will not take this opportunity to tackle global issues globally. Humans know how to cooperate, as we can see people doing right now in trying to lessen the effects of this virus. But we are also ambitious and we are set up to celebrate individual successes; we like power and autonomy, and we can work in teams but it requires an entire library of books to help us learn how to do it successfully. Even with survival at stake, unless disaster is barreling at us in the tangible form of a tiny bug or a giant asteroid, the threat is too abstract to inspire us to coalesce.

Another lesson that this virus is teaching us is that societies must be healthy in more than one way. Our 45, always focuses on the economy, on money, on keeping wealthy people happy so that they will fund American hegemony and keep people employed. Only employed people matter. If you have mental issues or physical issues which prevent you from finding employment some Americans seem to believe that you are just faking your disabilities; with proper training you could find some kind of job.

After I retired I worked for several years in a temp job with a blind woman. She had been born blind and had trouble perceiving spatial relationships. A job had to be specially designed and matched to her skills. Since the job was very visual, an auditory and braille approach had to be devised. When the company changed procedures, this woman lost her job because designing a whole new system she could participate in was too difficult. Not everyone can work. And of course there are people who would do anything to avoid a 9-5 job.

But Trump and the Republicans do not believe in giving away money, even if depriving our poorest citizens will doom those of us who work to infections and viruses. Democrats and Republicans designed a bipartisan bill to help some hourly employees, employees at small businesses and others who will not be able to survive with our businesses all closed down, but some Republicans are already requiring limitations on who can receive help and who won’t qualify. This means that we will not lift up those who need help the most because Mitch McConnell has determined that they do not deserve it. He cannot get it through his senile brain that we are all interconnected; that the fate of people who work rests on what happens to the poorest among us. This virus shows us why conservative economics is nonsense. This virus shows us that with so many people on the earth focusing only on one area of a society does not constitute adequate governance.

Trump worries about the stock market and tries to get the Fed of adjust something that can only be adjusted by tackling the real problem, the fallout from a pandemic, which is in no way contained to just the health care industry, but is affecting every aspect of our society. This lesson is that not only is Social Darwinism mean, and not only will the poor be affected, but social benefits offer advantages to the wealthy as well as the poor. We are all interconnected.

We are also learning that small government is a bunch of hooey. How are we doing in a pandemic with reluctant federal leadership and each state calling the shots for what happens within its own boundaries? Part of this is due to a President who cannot accept that anything might be beyond his control, who tried to spin the facts he was hearing from his medical advisors, tried to spin the virus right out of existence. And why did he spin it? Apparently the virus only bothered him because it was tanking the stock market. He could not imagine that taking care of everyone’s health could be the only way to shore up the markets.

When Trump speaks to the nation lately it is as if he has been possessed by an alien, like the one in Independence Day who takes control over the Professor’s vocal chords. Governors are leading, but not all governors are created equal and not all states have equal access to resources. In this health crisis we are seeing why small government does not function well when populations are large. We rely on our federal government for stability and calm and intelligent solutions at all times, but especially in times of crisis. We are not even close to having that. So pass that financial package without any limitations and be prepared to write an even better one soon. America is taking a long break from consumerism. What will that teach us?

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Miami University

 

 

Blowout by Rachel Maddow – Book

Never would I have imagined that I would, by choice, read a book about oil and gas, but I found Blowout by Rachel Maddow both readable and sort of gripping. Except for a brief visit with Putin, as the title telegraphs the book begins with the BP Deep Water Horizon blowout and the oil leak which made it clear that while the industry has plenty of tools for drilling, it has almost none for clean-up. Rachel expresses incredulity that even now, in 2020, we still have only giant paper towels, dish detergent, and booms.

Once the Deep Water Horizon gusher is finally capped, Maddow has us shuttling back and forth between Putin’s Russia and Oklahoma City, In Russia Exxon Mobil under the leadership of Rex Tillerson signs a deal with Putin to drill using horizontal drilling techniques (fracking) in the Arctic releasing billions of gallons of oil and gas trapped in the ancient shale under the Arctic Ocean.

In Oklahoma we follow the rather excessively risky Aubrey McClendon in his quest to frack every inch of Oklahoma and put Oklahoma City on the map. It is hard to say if Aubrey loves oil or Oklahoma City most, but he loves money over both. He is a wildcatter who somehow talks banks into allowing him to carry enormous debts, and he talks with government officials and the powers that be at Oklahoma University to hush up the emerging evidence of a connection between fracking and the numerous earthquakes rocking Oklahoma.

There are so many good oil and gas stories (all true) in Maddow’s book that I can’t begin to tell them all. The Russia saga alone has so much corruption and thuggery that it reads like a thriller, but it is not a thriller. It’s an actual chunk of world history that reveals how chasing oil and gas resources and profits is destroying our democracy every bit as much as the Republicans, the Fundamentalists, and Trump.

Oil and gas are so tied to money and power that it becomes clear that the power people around the globe never had any plans to stop using fossil fuels. In fact nations were competing to tap oil reserves far under earth in difficult to reach places and either control the global flow of petroleum or have an independent long term supply. Putin even has dreams of getting Exxon Mobil to use their technical drilling knowledge to tap enough Russian oil and gas that Putin can become the sole supplier of oil and gas to the EU and thus be able to pull strings in as many EU countries as desired. He seems to dream of a mighty Russia, with imperialistic expansion back to the old boundaries of the Soviet Union (or even beyond) on his mind. Fascinating and frightening.

And we learn how money and powerful oil companies ‘bought’ the Republican Party and turned them into the climate deniers they are, and why any attempts to bring alternative energies to the forefront and turn America into an engine of production in the emerging alternative energy markets were facing enough headwinds to keep them very small indeed. The book ends with notes on attributions for the information contained in each chapter. Blowout by Rachel Maddow is a very informative nonfiction offering by an Oxford scholar who also hosts an hour of news each night on MSNBC.

A Case of the Sads – for Elizabeth Warren

A Case of the Sads

My best friend’s daughter is now a med student, but she could teach us all how to stay in touch with our emotions. When she’s happy, she is ‘over the moon’, sometimes all she shares on social media is one word ‘sads.’

Well that is my word for today, I have a case of the ‘sads.’ I was quietly, in my heart of hearts, rooting for Elizabeth Warren. She touched on the exact policies that would offer broad support to the American middle class. She was progressive enough without being ideological about it. My big sprawling family could have benefited from every one of the things she had a plan for. Even if they were past the need for child care, their children were almost grown and would soon find child care that didn’t cost half their salary highly beneficial. Those same children are even closer to finishing high school and going off to college. We are not a wealthy family. To see their children launched into good careers without massive college debts would be an enormous relief. Many family members are in the Medicare donut hole and have to shell out big bucks to cover the places their medical insurance refuses to go. Having really affordable health care would wipe some of those worry lines off their foreheads. Why should some seniors have to pay $300+ to have their Shingles shots while others pay nothing.

But I read the Washington Post every day. I read the New York Times every day. I could see that no woman was going to be good enough for the commentators and pundits in 2020. In fact, it became pretty clear that opinions were dead against any progressive winning the Democratic nomination. The Democratic Party is being steered by Republicans who have lost their party. They are in limbo. They cannot stomach a Republican Party led by Trump, but they are not now and never will be Democrats. They have been very active. They write opinion columns; they write books. I am speaking of people like David Frum, George Will, David Brooks and other well-known conservatives who are rogue pool balls now loose on the table and still trying desperately to bring back their brand of intellectual conservatism and Christian morality. There are people like Jennifer Rubin and Nicole Wallace who have become supposedly more passionate Democrats than the actual Democrats. And then there are the moderate Democrats like David Leonhardt who heads the opinion staff at the NYT. All of these people have argued over and over again, in articles and interviews’s that no progressive can beat Donald Trump; that no woman can beat Trump. It’s hard to tell if the people arrived at this same view independent of the press, or because it is repeated so often, and not always by men.

Elizabeth Warren, to me, seemed as perfect a presidential candidate as it is possible for a human being to be. Not too old, not too ideological, capable of flexibility, with a warmth that has been very much missed in our recent governance, and with a mission to make sure that millionaires and billionaires would benefit from parting with tiny percentages of their wealth (which they will not even miss) to help America become a nation that is once again thriving and growing, where citizens feel valued and happy because there is hope that their children will also have good lives lived in good health. This would be an America where people could look forward to a comfortable retirement ahead, would know that there will be a rest from their labors.

Why don’t we want that? Why would we pick any of the old men in this race who seem far gloomier, or far more confused, than the chipper and energetic Warren. But we have been schooled that this is what we must do because one goal is more important than all the others. We must not elect Donald Trump for four more years. We all agree that this is our most significant goal in 2020 and that sacrifices of personal preference must be made to make it so. We have thrown in our lot with the moderate Democrats and the party-less anti-Trumpers because we believe that they are most likely correct. As a woman it almost feels that we are knuckling under once again to the males who dominate our politics, but even so we are pitching in with the majority for a necessary cause and that is what women do.

So here I am saying goodbye once again to the idea of having a woman as the American President and admitting once again that I have backed the wrong horse in this race, although I always knew it would turn out this way. I soothe myself by listing the number of strong women who were in this race. Women will keep running, I feel sure. It is especially poignant to bid farewell to the last viable female candidate in Women’s History month, with all the sweet news coverage of the ‘pinkie swears’ Elizabeth made with young girls all over America. The stories speak of how she is disappointed that she cannot keep those promises right now. Did she create a little subset of girls who will grow up with big ambitions. That would be a nice legacy. And so Elizabeth, Amy, Kamala, Tulsi (not out but not winning), and Marianne farewell for now. We are good at waiting for those ‘historical’ women’s moments to arrive.

Sarah Longwell writing in the NYT on March 9th offered some backup for the view that ‘never Trump’ Republicans will vote for a moderate Democrats like Joe Biden, but not for a Democratic Socialist. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/opinion/joe-biden-never-trump,html

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Shondaland.com

Racing Across America

Racing Across America

We have multiple election campaigns stumping in state after state across America, but an extremely contagious virus is also racing to state after state across America. It’s a good thing that Super Tuesday is almost here because this is looking like a really bad collision. We have an event that calls for social interaction at rallies and town halls and polling places; and germs that spread by air from person to person and call for social isolation. What could go wrong?

Will the COVID-19 virus force us to change the way we do elections? Will the candidates have to keep their distance from the very people they would like to shake hands with, take selfies with? These are important people for the moment. Money has flowed and will flow to fund their campaigns. Can they protect themselves from germs and still campaign in the same ways they have been? Several of the candidates are not young. Is their health good enough to withstand a bout of COVID-19? Although this is a rather morbid discussion, perhaps we need to have it. If it’s important to have a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in Congress, especially the Senate, then the campaigns ought to give some thought to how they will keep their people healthy.

Florida has the virus; Florida votes March 17. Illinois has the virus; Illinois votes March 17. Oregon has not yet reported the virus; Oregon votes March 19. Washington has the virus; Washington State votes March 20. Wisconsin, an important swing state where campaigning is fierce, has not yet reported a case of the virus; their primary is on April 7. Pennsylvania, also a swing state, and NY both have their primaries on April 28 th. NY has the virus, Pennsylvania does not have any cases yet. I suppose we can be happy that the primary season is almost over. But then the conventions are held and the actual election begins. Will COVID-19 taper off when the weather gets warm as says our large and in-charge president who hates science? We’ll see.

Perhaps my worries are baseless. Perhaps this will end up being a nothing-burger. Right now if feels like we are waiting for the aliens in Independence Day to nuke our cities and towns. Some common sense measures might help here. “A word to the wise should be sufficient.”

Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches – Forbes, BBC

 

 

Acid for Children by Flea – Book

Acid for Children by Flea – Book

Rock stars, punk stars, even hip hop stars are being pressured to write memoirs. Patti Smith has sort of taken the literary world by storm – she’s next on my list, but Flea’s book called to me first because it was on the reader that didn’t need to be charged. Ridiculous way to pick reading priorities and likely to make you feel like your brain has experienced whiplash, but I can no longer cart around heavy piles of books, and library waiting lists are long. Besides writers make their living when we buy their books, so I like to buy books to show my respect for writers.

Michael Balzary, the bassist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote Acid for Children. His fans know him as Flea. He’s actually quite a good writer whose words do not get in the way of his story. It seemed like I was sitting in a circle of his friends on an adjoining mattress on the floor of the Wilton Hilton as he told the story of his early years, before he became famous. He told the most distressing things as if they were normal events, although he was aware that his childhood was anything but normal. It began in a fairly normal way in Australia, living with mom, Patricia, and Dad, Mick, sister Karyn. In Australia Michael’s pleasures involved enjoying the riches offered by nature in Australia; a boy and his dog. When he was about eight his Dad was offered a great job in the US and the family moved to an upscale suburban home.

Michael’s mother rebelled. She left to live with Walter, a musician/artist who knew many jazz greats and jammed with them, but who could not make a living. He had a substance abuse problem and what was probably a mental illness. He was though, when sober, a far more affectionate person than Michael’s birth father, and when not sober he raged and became abusive and fought with Michael’s mom, driving Michael out of the house. Michael’s birth father and his sister went back to Australia.

Patricia and Walter had no house rules. Michael was free to run and became basically a wild young kid, shoplifting what he wanted or needed, making friends with other young men who liked to take crazy risks, all the while feeling unloved, and sometimes unlovable. Michael and his friends tried every drug, swam in every beckoning empty pool, and partied constantly. I do not know how Michael stayed out of jail or why he didn’t have a long rap sheet of petty crimes. He seemed to make it through a very tumultuous coming-of-age and to arrive safely in adulthood, still somewhat messed up, but with a career as a famous musician right ahead of him.

Michael became Flea when he became the bassist for Fear. He finished high school thanks to a love of music he had learned from the jazz he loved and all the fine jazz musicians he met at Walter’s shabby house. Michael played the trumpet in high school and his love of music kept him in school long enough to graduate. Michael and his friends lived in Hollywood which might explain how they stayed under the radar of law enforcement as they used the city as their acid-fueled playground. Eventually Flea learned to play the bass, and it became his ticket into fame and fortune.

Balzary is quite honest in telling his story; he does not hide the chaos of his early years and he obviously enjoyed much of the chaos, which suited something untamed within him. Looking back he counsels that children should not do any of the drugs he did, that it does damage to young brains. He explains that he eventually became enlightened enough to not try so hard to constantly self-soothe. Readers may find Michael Balzary’s young life too profane for their tastes. While appreciating the honesty Flea offers and his easy style of writing, I agree with his adult self, that children can be neglected by self-absorbed adults when they need oversight the most. Is a chaotic youth necessary to mold a creative spirit? Perhaps creative development does not require quite this level of free range parenting.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Radio X

Trump Effects on School Bullying

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently conducted a survey of a wide array of American public schools about bullying. They have published their results in a PDF and also in a non-PDF format.

What they found from educator reports is that school bullying, always a problem, had taken a Trumpian turn. Students and even teachers were cited for attacks on minorities, immigrants, Muslims and many of these attacks invoked Trump by name. “Trump is building a wall to keep you out.” “Trump will ban all Muslims and deport you.” “Trump will send all black people back to Africa.” Some teachers teach that Trump is a good man and they do not report children for using xenophobic and racist taunts. Children feel threatened and find little support from administration. Children have had to transfer schools and get counselling.

Here are some of the findings of the SPLC, an admittedly left-leaning organization fighting racism and xenophobia for decades. I know that we often hear truths called ‘biases’ these day, but that does not matter. This organization has paid its dues and done the work and kept our attention on discrimination and unfairness and injustice, a mission that is even more important now.

“Here are the highlights: from the Southern Poverty Law Center survey:

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
  • More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.”

We also know that questions in a survey can be designed to elicit data that reflects the bias of the organization doing the questioning, but there is also anecdotal evidence published in this article and in a Washington Post article to back up the claims that Trumpian-style bullying is on the increase in our schools.

From the Southern Poverty Law article:

“Students do not understand why this has become such an angry and dishonorable campaign. They are taught better behavior by their teachers, and then they see this mess on TV and are confused.”

Omak, Washington

“Openly racist statements towards Mexican students have increased. Mexican students are worried.” Anaheim, California

“Students have become very hostile to opposing points of view, regardless of the topic. Any division now elicits anger and personal attacks.” Jefferson, Georgia

From the Washington Post article:

“… a 2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.”

At first I wondered why TV media did not pick up this story and make a bigger deal of it. That would be the normal way to behave. But then I remembered that times are anything but normal. Making this a prominent story in the media might escalate the bullying and the threat level. It is also entirely possible that since the source of the story is the Southern Poverty Law Center it could be dismissed as left wing propaganda too easily. Regardless of the reason, the import of this data about school bullying is just another aspect of many ‘fascist’ influences in Trump’s America. Sadly the only remedy we have to change the national dialogue rests on the 2020 election which the media is turning into a anti-Democratic Party field day. While it is true that the Democrats seem to be in some disarray, each of the Democrats has policies that could change the script from pleasing billionaires to meeting the needs of we the working people. And a primary is a contest. I wish the media did not have to go all sensationalist to attract reader/watchers. This will be a very consequential election indeed. Our children are at stake.

John Katko: Mr. Perfect or Flawed Human

John Katko, District 24NY Representative to the US House of Representatives, announced the other night on the news that he was bringing home $11m in grants for use in addressing the housing problems poor Central New Yorkers face. Some of the money will go to the city of Syracuse and some to Onondaga County. Of course, this is good news. In 2015 the Century Foundation published an article called “The Architecture of Segregation” which showed the role that being unable to own a house played in robbing poor people, especially poor black people of generational wealth. Redlining kept black folks in center cities that were losing their tax base as white people moved to the suburbs, and real estate companies found ways to keep black people from following them to more prosperous areas with better schools. It was racism that affected the pocketbooks and bank accounts of those who were denied mobility, who remained in crumbling inner city neighborhoods where the equity in any property people owned there declined as housing prices fell. Pioneer Homes (pictured above), the oldest housing at the heart of the city of Syracuse, was built in 1941 and is still fully occupied.

When children do not see way to join a society that seems to be thriving all around them but does not seem to offer them a way in, they begin to dream about ways to make it rich quick. Those who want to choose a legal route dream of succeeding in professional sports or in music. Those who see friends who seem to have found ways to stay local and strike it rich, are attracted by less legal role models, and by gangs which seem like families who have your back no matter what. A few kids are lured into success through academics, and when community programs came along that guarantee college funding to kids who do well in school the numbers improved. But we all know that school success is not always a path to riches, and unless you are born into a wealthy family wealth is certainly not likely to come instantly. Not having college debt speeds things up a bit. Hope is a tender thing, easily killed in harsh surroundings. The same gangs that offered support to members made inner city communities dangerous places that did not encourage the academic route, and tended to bully ‘nerds.’

To deal with gangs cities went the route of tough law enforcement, getting gang members off the streets and into jail. RICO laws made sure that gang members got long sentences. But retribution and vengeance are fostered more often by long jail sentences and gangs seem to stick and stay alive almost in defiance of law and order approaches. I am a law and order appreciator. Cultures that are not lawful and orderly soon disintegrate into thuggery and chaos. But there has to be something hopeful about administering justice in cities.

Throwing people in jail, letting them out after time served, seems to mostly produce reoffenders, anger, and unhappy communities where residents hold vengeful feelings in their hearts. It is an endless negative loop and it is wasteful. It allows us to consider some people beyond redemption, as throwaways. People who only wish to inflict harm cannot be tolerated; people who are so addicted to drugs that they will do any crime to support their needs are also menaces to peaceful enjoyment of a neighborhood or a city or even a home. But I firmly believe that we can find more creative ways to short circuit reoffenders than simply sending them back to jail over and over. We can reach people if we find the right carrot, the one that will fire up the light in their eyes and make them want to do something new. As for addicts we can either set up programs that allow someone to feed their addiction regularly, or we can set up enough rehab programs to get people off drugs and, at the same time, find the pursuit in life that will serve as their carrot.

Well, right there in a nut shell is my beef with John Katko. He is a law and order man. He does not think about wasting human beings and providing hope. He believes that when people are bad you punish them and this teaches them to not do whatever they did again. Except we know that punishment only works in a very few cases. Using a stick without a carrot fosters anger and resentment, deep resentment that erodes the ability to hold hope for a better life in your heart.

Plenty of people have studied the efficacy of using praise or using blame to encourage changed behavior and praise works better every time. It can’t be false praise. Finding what fires up the furnace in each person is not easy. Public schools are notoriously bad at it unless you are fired up by academics. Even if you are, the chaos in an individual’s life can make the pursuit of academics unrewarding. Why haven’t we, with all our knowledge, our brain power, figured out how to stimulate the imaginations of diverse populations of students? Why are kids still sitting in armed desks in neat alphabetical rows? Some of it is about money and safety. Some of it is about control. Some of it is about institutionalization. If certain schools can find ways to click with kids of all stripes, more schools could do the same. John Katko most likely thinks this is unrealistic and that ‘softness’ will increase violence rather than counteract it. But I think that using praise and blame together might be worth trying. Creative approaches to educating kids in the poorest neighborhoods would be well worth the extra cash they would cost. There are plenty of intelligent minority professionals in inner cities who could be trusted to design programs that entice participation, using their familiarity with poorer residents to best effect.

So, John Katko, a rather inflexible, stern and all-knowing Mr. Law and Order, brings money home and it is for housing. He brings $11 m, which sounds like a lot but probably isn’t, and that money is divvied up among several agencies with differing missions, although all related to housing. Katko is given this money to bring home just in time to help him get reelected. We are all grateful for the money, but the timing is certainly suspect. And as long as Katko remains Mr. Law and Order and does not have any more creative dimensions to his approach to stubborn poverty and crime in city neighborhoods, to students who come to school with life problems that make academic pursuits seem like ‘baby stuff’, the cycle of street to jail and back is likely to continue uninterrupted. More, much more is called for.

Syracuse recently competed for a tech grant with 250 cities and won one of only a few grants. The grant is for $3m and comes from a big unnamed bank. It is paid out over three years and cannot be used by the city for other initiatives. It must be used to plan and deliver tech skills to inner city residents. Here is some hope. Two pools of money to spend on our inner city. May it be spent as it should be. The money could make a difference.

As for John Katko, don’t send him back to Congress. We can do better. He is no Mr. Perfect; he is flawed human just like the rest of us, but we can see that his particular flaws may be a lack of compassion and imagination.

Photo Credit: Pioneer Homes, Syracuse.com

In the Run-Up to an Election, Who Does That

In the Run-Up to an Election, Who Does That

Trump obviously feels invincible. He is beyond us all now. He is at the heights he has always dreamed of, but it has not made him nice. He believes that he must use fear to stay there, he must use audacity, and that is something he is really good at. Audacity can be a positive trait that allows risk-taking and pushes a forward agenda, such as a successful business. But in Trump’s case he has the audacity to break laws, to defy even the most gentle of authorities such as his nation’s traditions which never before had to be set into laws. Staying within some of these informal boundaries was a sort of gentleman’s agreement (also respected by ladies). But Donald J Trump is no gentleman, nor does he want to be one. He is a fascist. He is always punching back even when that is not the best strategy. He can’t help himself. He sees every disagreement as an attack. He sees every decision that goes against his wishes as turning him into a victim. He plays the victim well in order to get his way, but once he wins, he is ruthless. If he loses, which he rarely does, he engages in brutal retaliation. He seems to have a cruel heart, but he really has no empathy of any kind. His reactions are all about what he is feeling and how he can soothe himself. He cannot hide his emotions. He likes that his moods are carefully observed by everyone and that people try to keep him happy so he won’t lash out.

But even so, even though we know all of this about him, it is still unusual that he is acting the way he is in the run-up to an election. Meddling in the business of the Justice Department is not usual. Transparently interfering in courts, their processes and their outcomes is just not done. Doing this to keep crooked men out of jail because you like them, or because they are your friends; because they kept the loyalty oath they swore to you (knowing you would come to their rescue), because they refused to testify in front of lawful investigations of a Special Prosecutor is something that is usually done on the down low (or not at all). Doing this so openly in an election year is really, really rare. It suggests that you are so certain that you will be reelected that you do not need to worry about what you do, even this close to an election. Is Trump unable to keep himself in check to achieve a greater goal? Is he playing to his base to show how he treats those who are loyal to him? Is the election already a done deal, is the fix in? Will the electoral college math, the Evangelical machinations, and the Republican dehumanization of the Democrats make a Republican the winner of all presidential elections for decades to come, even though this is no longer a majority party. Trump obviously believes it is all about him, that his people love him so much, and the economy is doing so well that he has a blank check for any behavior that secures his tenure in his little Oval Office fortress.

He purges sincere civil servants who work in his government for testifying against him. Actually he eventually purges almost everyone. He turns in a budget that would not go into effect until after the election that makes big cuts to social programs. He wants the Supreme Court to declare the Affordable Care Plan unconstitutional. He reverses clean water protections. What candidate for President, even an incumbent does these kinds of things this close to an election. Presidents often try to do as little as possible and make statements about ‘gifts’ that will accrue to the people if they vote to elect. Why does making such counterintuitive moves seem to make Trump even more ‘Trumpy’? He had to hold an entire party in Congress in thrall to escape being impeached. Now he is putting ‘the band’ back together to help him win this election but I bet he will not listen to any advice from these old pals, like Hope Hicks. Of course, she obviously knows her way around the Trump. I would like to think that Donald is just being overly confident, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we are screwed. And that is exactly what Trump wants me to think. We need to put our energies into making sure that Donald’s cavalier behavior in the run-up to 2020 is just hype.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Nati Harnik – AP – NBC News

999 by Heather Dune Macadam – Book

If you decide to read 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune Macadam, read it with a whole box of tissues handy. This is not because, as in fiction, authors know how to engage our emotions; this is a nonfiction book and the tears will be real. Despite all the times authors have written about the Holocaust, this story still has the power to horrify us, to remind us of the heroic efforts it took to survive this unimaginable cruelty and brutality, to make us wonder if we would have been a survivor, and to force us to accept that the right set of circumstances could possibly turn any one of us into a monster.

Macadam was studying the first transports to Auschwitz in 1942. She learned that a notice went out in Slovakia that spring requiring 999 young teen girls to pack a bag and report for a physical exam. The notice said that they were going to be employed somewhere just outside Slovakia and would return home in 3 months. A few parents tried to hide their daughters because they could not understand why the government was taking girls. But in the end 997 girls were collected and parted from their parents and from all they knew. Macadam made extensive use of the USC Shoah Archive and the official records in Israel to track down the girls who survived this first transport. Although rumor had it that the girls were going to a shoe factory, they actually were taken to occupy the first buildings at Auschwitz. Their small suitcases were confiscated and they were given the uniforms of dead soldiers to wear and some were given black and white striped dresses. On their feet they had homemade clumsy sandals which they called clackers.

Some of the survivors could not talk about their experiences, some could not remember the details because their minds had blocked them, but there were survivors who felt it was important to tell people what had happened in those camps. How anyone survived I cannot say. The treatment of these girls was insane and inexplicable, apparently only possible because the Nazi’s were convinced that Jewish people were less than human. But they did what they did under conditions of great secrecy, so clearly they knew well how the world would judge them. After these girls, transport after transport of young Jewish women were delivered to Auschwitz, and they, in fact, cleared the ground for the entire concentration camp by hand, without coats in winter, in those awful homemade sandals, and thousands died.

This is the most authentic book I have read so far about Auschwitz and the ‘Final Solution’ given that Macadam spoke with people who had lived there and experienced that nightmare. The slightest small misstep, a bout of illness, an injury could result in death. Eventually the girls with the lowest numbers were given indoor work in Canada, which was the name given to the buildings where confiscated Jewish belongings were sorted. This decision may have been the only reason some of these girls survived. The thing that saved their lives put them right next to the crematoriums which had now been built and operated day and night when transports arrived, eventually leaving people off almost at the entrance to the ovens. The girls could see their relatives and neighbors lined up to be killed. The ashes of other Jews filled the air they breathed. Even the comfort of an indoor job held horror.

When I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, I was skeptical of the things the author recounted. I also tended to see Jewish people in the camps who had light duty as possible collaborators. The girls who survived have a lot of guilt about things they did in the camps, but most of them offered a kindness when they could without putting their own life or their own survival in jeopardy. There were girls who were given power as a building supervisor, and some of these girls were dangerous and mean, but the things the girls on this first transport out of Slovakia felt guilty about were unavoidable. Now I believe that Heather Morris was just recounting a story that a survivor told her and that it was most likely as trustworthy as memories of such trauma can be. I read books about the Holocaust because it is the least I can do to honor those who lived through those inhuman camps. But also, so I will always remember that if one deranged human could decide to commit mass murder based on hate or jealousy, or some pathological construct, then it could happen again.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – goodreads.com