Friday, December 28, 2012

Vicious Viruses



If you are a regular reader of this blog—and oh, how I hope that you are—you may have noticed my failure to post Wednesday. A vicious virus struck me at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday, and I was quickly beyond reason. I couldn’t lift my head from the pillow except for biological imperatives best left unspecified. Twelve hours later, I fell into a deep, restorative sleep, and by this morning, I was strong enough to sit up, sip liquids, and stare at television.

Still, I found time to think about vicious viruses that attach themselves to the walls of reason—the social, economic and political viruses that blind us to all else, stifling our capacity to listen and learn, stealing our compassion for the needs and suffering of others.

Atticus Finch, the hero and Father of Every Year, tried to find the antidote for the virus in his community: racism. He used logic, he appealed to God, he provided evidence, and he bore the indignities of taking an unpopular position with grace and resolve. He lost, and so do all of us when we allow a virus to spread, mutate, and infect anew.

The Right to Life debate is such a virus. Representative Paul Ryan, presidential candidate Rick Santorum, failed Senate candidate Todd Akin, and many more conservative voices argue passionately for the rights of the fetus from conception. Theirs is a sacred mission, fueled by their faith, but their faith falters once the child has been born. Ryan, for example, believes that government must not regulate, legislate, or render aid to fight poverty or its circumstances, reasoning that doing so impedes the work of churches and charities (http://www.huffingtonpost. com/2012/10/24/paul-ryan-poverty-speech_n_2010827.html). In other words, once government intervenes to insure the life of a fetus, it must then withdraw to allow faithful citizens and philanthropic souls to throw lifelines to one of every five children in this nation.

Even members of Ryan’s own faith object to his proposals and reasoning. Sister Campbell, leader of the Nuns on the Bus campaign, counters that compassion should not end at birth and that charities alone cannot win a war on poverty. I agree and marvel that the Right to Life infection does not invade the hearts and minds of citizens and governing officials when the subjects of capital punishment, hunger, health care, poverty, or waging war are brought to the House or Senate for a vote.

Another contagion is the Second Amendment fever. Some fear the loss of it so fervently that they are willing to put twenty children, ages six and seven, in harm’s way. Even though our nation has already lost approximately 100 citizens annually in mass shootings for the last forty years, gun advocates would have us risk even more, arguing that more guns will keep us safer, huge or limited ammunition clips will not alter bad human behavior, and background checks at gun shows are just big government run amok. We want teachers and FBI agents and local police officers and welfare recipients and train engineers and pilots and health care personnel to submit to background checks, to prove their competencies, and to sit for psychological tests in order to preserve and protect the public good, but Second Amendment fever makes sufferers incapable of seeing government regulation as anything but a Storm-Trooper threat.

An acquaintance and fellow student in a recent Political Storytelling course that I enjoyed very much asked me during a break, “How can people on the right support the candidates and policies? How?” I told her that I didn’t have the answer, but that most of them seemed to be single-issue voters uninformed about many of the social, economic and political realities that face the nation. What I meant, of course, is that many people, left and right, carry the virus of climate change or Right to Life. Some have a low-grade Second Amendment fever; others drink the Kool-aid and take on faith the idea that trickle-down economics is a sound idea in spite of more than forty years in which nothing trickled down, only up.

Rest, America. Heal. Get well by getting the rest of the story, the one beyond your single-issue. Advocate for one and all, not just your own particular religion, literary icon, or economist. If the House of Representatives could shake off allegiance to Grover Norquist and the illusion of big, heinous government, we might just get a deal and a little national health.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Another Sandy: Sandy Hook



Last week, I honored all those still struggling after Hurricane Sandy. I asked that those near to Sandy’s path remember to be fully present in the long-term, to be the person who holds the hands of others just because they need a moment’s support, [to] be the one who listens to the same list of fears and losses each time the sufferer needs to tell of them all, [to] summon patience and empathy beyond measure. I regret that another occasion requires that I repeat myself. Twenty children and six educators died at the hands of an armed intruder.

When the news reached me, I cried. I’m crying now. I cry for lives ended so suddenly, so cruelly. I cry for anther national tragedy. I cry for innocence lost. I cry for parents who surely must have presents wrapped under a Christmas tree, gifts that will never be given. I cry for the nation that mourns, then argues about what to do.

Norah O’Donnell of CBS This Morning stirred the debate by challenging President Obama’s record prior to Friday, December 14, 2012 as proof that he could have, should have had done something sooner--as if millions of children without health insurance or an economy on the brink of collapse or a recalcitrant Congress more concerned with clawing its way back into power were not oversized helpings of trouble and work. Chris Matthews of Hardball challenged a gun-control advocate to explain how a single change in school or firearms policies would have saved those children.

I can’t imagine what such televised moments might do to the hearts and minds of grieving parents, stricken relatives, and a community in shock. I can’t imagine why new anchors insist upon making partisan what has not yet become partisan. Both O’Donnell and Matthews spoke before the NRA or GOP had weighed in on the matter. I suppose in this 24/7 news cycle they couldn’t afford to wait upon the actual news; instead they tried to create some for the rest of us to gnaw.

Let reason prevail please. Let us make sensible policy and legal changes that will help protect women from their abusers, children from the troubled, and men from themselves. Let us care more about life than about tools for death.

But above all, let us walk in the shoes of others, as Atticus advised. Let us summon perfect empathy for the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and First Responders who will never be the same, for whom the future has grown bleak. May they find the sun again while carrying the impenetrable shadow of personal sorrow tucked in their hearts.

(On September 5, 2012, I posted an essay about mass shootings in America. It features data that you may find useful as you navigate your way through grief into an analysis of policy changes that may or may not make it through our divisive political reality.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12. 12. 12.



Today, on the twelfth day of the twelfth month in the twelfth year of the twenty-first century, celebrities and artists will come together to remember and raise money for people whose holidays and futures were redesigned by Nature’s fierce architect, Hurricane Sandy. May the stars align on stage to shape new constellations for the men, women, and children trying to find the joy in the season.

Such grand gestures are wonderful, and I admire those people who conceive them and all those who execute them. I’d love to be among them, but I’m an ordinary citizen, no one extraordinary. I’m neither celebrity nor star, and I’ve never lost to Nature’s fury. Tornadoes have changed course and skipped my home. Earthquakes have rattled the occasional dish, but I’ve never sustained losses or needed to run outside. I don’t live on flood plain and where waters have risen, I’ve barely had to change my route or routine.

Lest anyone think I’ve sallied through life unscathed, I must grant that I have not. I have lost. My heart’s been broken. I’ve been betrayed and forced to let go.

I’ve also been a witness on the sidelines when others endured an F-5 tornado. Two women, each living alone, had to be pulled from the wreckage of their homes, from beneath the roofs resting on the ground. One woman was already a widow, the other would soon lose her husband, wasted by Alzheimer’s, but on the night his home fell in, he was in a nursing home across town, unaware of any storm or hazard to his loved one. Each woman had to choose a new car, their own having been crushed by the weight of timber and trees. Each lost her most intimate possessions, the trinkets accumulated over time, the ones that recall the sounds and sights of children, love, holidays, and weddings.

Because of those women and my own casual brushes with loss, I know that the most important people in the healing and rebuilding process are people like me. Those celebrities and artists will lead many to give generously, and those funds will help ameliorate the suffering, but it’s the people who are there for the long-haul that matter most.

Be the person who holds the hands of others just because they need a moment’s support. Be the one who listens to the same list of fears and losses each time the sufferer needs to tell of them all. Summon patience and empathy beyond measure.

Above all, try to remember Maudie Atkinson when she lost everything she owned one rare, snowy night in Alabama. She simply said that she’d rebuild and that the new building would be better than the old one. She had hope and faith. May all those afflicted have the same, especially in this season of love and giving.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Unvarnished Words


I’ve recently moved from an urban home with high-speed Internet, capable of downloading rich text and graphics in seconds. I enjoyed a vast array of cable programming, including premium channels that featured documentaries and access to PBS stations proud to pay for Bill Moyers’ knowledge, British classics, and Frontline news. MSNBC was available without an upgrade, and NPR was a clear signal from several stations inside my home and car.

Now I dwell in the beauty and peace of Nature where Internet is primitive. I’ve been trying for three days to download an update that Microsoft deems critical for my computer and its security. The connection to the server snaps after hours and hours watching a blue bar try to fill a gray space. I then must begin again. Today, I stalled before going to work at the computer just so I could avoid the molar-grinding consequence of learning that the damn server couldn’t handle the strain.

If I get in my car and drive 35 miles, I might pick up a clear NPR signal, but the programming is light, frothy, certainly not talky. Much of the day brings music to listeners instead of some of my favorites like Snap Judgment, This American Life, Science Fridays on Talk of the Nation, or Garrison Keillor. I must buy a satellite radio and hope for the best.

The only educational channel available through Direct TV’s upgraded, high-definition programming package for my area must not be well-funded and/or run by men and women with limited horizons. I found Independent Lens available after midnight. The search guide does not even recognize the name Moyers, but I can count on seeing Downton Abbey when it returns January 6, 2013. Huzzah.

So I’ve been watching more C-Span than I once did. I’m taking my news direct from the mouths of newsmakers, and I must say, the words of Ebenezer Scrooge come to mind: Bah, humbug!

Yes, Bah, humbug! to you, Senator Inhofe who took a classic, short-sighted view of a bill to underwrite and support green energy initiatives in America’s military efforts. He says we can’t afford to spend money when the current needs are so great. He took a similar position when Rachel Maddow invited Inhofe to engage in a serious discussion about climate change after the publication of his right-wing Climate Denier book, full of disinformation generously provided by right-wing think tanks. During that interview, Inhofe admitted that he was once on the side of climate change until he learned just how much fixing the problems that man creates might cost. (http://thinkprogress. org/climate/2012/03/16/446008/inhofe-maddow-global-warming). Now, Inhofe joins many others in the GOP to vote no because we simply cannot afford to do the right thing for the next generations, for the future health of this earth, for the preservation of our place in the universe, especially if the right thing seems to be endorsed by so-called Progressives, liberals, or green-leaning folks.

Sound noble, wise? Not to me. Senator Inhofe is just a mouthpiece for climate-change nay-sayers, a man of limited wit, but infinite greed. He has proudly gone on record saying that his hand is open for money, money, more money from energy. Indeed, according to SourceWatch, “James M. Inhofe … accepted $311,800 in oil contributions during the 110th congress. $160,800 of those dollars … from industry PACS. In total, Inhofe received $662,506 from oil companies between 2000 and 2008, which makes him a top recipient of oil money. In addition to oil, Inhofe has received $152,800 in coal contributions during the 110th Congress. $94,500 of those dollars were from industry PACS” (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index. php?title=James_M._Inhofe). Inhofe's hand is still open during the 112th Congress and beyond.

Other nations have invested in high-speed Internet across the entire country. Granted, our country is much, much larger, but if we fail to wire our nation, we can and will fall behind. Other nations have upgraded their infrastructure, includng high-speed rail carrying people to work without the high cost of gasoline and constant road repair. Wind and solar power complement other energy sources and have reduced other nations’ dependency upon finite, expensive resources. Chile was able to rescue workers after a tunnel collapse because of safety measures that the U. S. refuses to require because of the cost of those upgrades, and men with the same convictions as Inhofe have made arguments about this nation’s inability to pay for safety and life itself. At some levels of government, citizens are just numbers, beans for Bean-Counters to tally and weigh against profits, dividends and Wall Street acclaim.

So my advice to you is you could do worse than tune in to C-Span, completely commercial free, by the way. You cannot do worse by heeding the advice of Oklahoma’s James Inhofe. He does not have your best interests at heart. He would trade the quality and quantity of your years on this earth for thirty pieces of silver in his palm.