Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In 2014, I Resolve to . . .

  • To be kinder to all, especially Customer Service Representatives in the employ of cell phone giants, Internet providers, and cable television drones (and yes, there are sad tales and fever-pitched quarrels I could recount),
  • To abandon all hope of every comprehending the Ebenezer hearts and labyrinthine brain of anyone claiming to have Tea-Party leanings and those fond of Ayn Rand’s rants,
  • To exercise vigorously at least four days weekly and walk farther every day,
  • To become righteous about tracking the food I put down my gullet,
  • To add more natural wonders of this world to my journal,
  • To feel the wind against my face, the sun upon my shoulders, and the cool blessing of night upon my weariness,
  • To empathize and accept,
  • To forgive those who trespass against me,
  • To cherish myself,
  • To be grateful for love, and
  • Never ever to abandon hope because I know that
Photo by Megan Griffin, "Temple in Japan," 2005

every child lost at Sandy Hook and Plaza Towers Elementary has left behind a legacy: a resolve to hold fast to the love felt and seared into a heart;

that every adult and child lost to gun violence has inspired one more to speak up and stand out for justice;

that Trayvon Martin’s family inspires a nation of people still convicted, still determined to find justice for him;

that Moral Monday protestors would go to jail again in the name of fairness, democracy, and education;

that men and women find food for hungry people;

that Pope Francis was elected to heal a church and restore faith;

that smarter, better people than I ever hope to be will always come forward.

May your resolve endure for 365 days; may your dreams spring to life.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Santa, All I Want for Christmas Is . . .

Have you ever read Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl” or seen the animated version of the story? The small little figure walks among people preoccupied, in need themselves or hardened to the faces and needs of others. Too small to be so alone, too frail to endure, too young to be saddled with such despair, this child succumbs to Nature and man.

She is not fiction. She is not a cartoon character. She is every boy and girl who rise to go to school hungry. She is the child without a home, the one who climbs inside a car, metal and glass her only shield against frigid temperatures and elements that could turn her tiny toes black and diseased.

She and he are one in five U. S. children. Their parents may even hold jobs, but their income is insufficient. Some of these children will never become what they might have become because a simple accident of birth placed them in the lowest socio-economic class. Through absolutely no fault, no choice on their part, and no decision made by them, they are and will be at the mercy of fates far beyond their control.

Photo by Al Griffin

Some of them will wonder why Santa seems real to other children, but passes them by, not even leaving coal for their bitter disappointment. Some of them will watch images of steaming, golden roasted turkey and turn away for the images only stir hunger pangs that strike like lightning.

Surely these children know hope, and my Christmas wish is for them. May they receive food to fuel their growth. May they never wake to a certain knowledge that they stand apart from the warmth of Christmas. May Brotherhood be reborn.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, After-Christmas Sales: All Marketing Coups

I’ve never shopped Black Friday sales. For more than a decade, I prepared a Thanksgiving meal, packed it to-go, drove 2 ½ hours across a turnpike, heated everything, served it all, cleaned my mom’s kitchen, packed leftovers for family members, and drove another 2 ½ hours to sleep in my own bed. The day after Thanksgiving was my day to give thanks for peace, quiet, rest, and leftovers.

I also never felt motivated to go forth into crowds competing for two televisions on sale. I knew myself to be susceptible to impulses so I stayed home. I also learned to expect great sales for a wide array of merchandise year-round in every city and most villages. From the global marketplace, I learned that anyone anywhere can buy local, domestic, and international, especially if using the Internet.

So many choices, so much competition online appealed to me so I logged on before and after work for Cyber Monday—except now, I don't need to wait for one particular day. Now, I can choose between Cyber Black Fridays and Black Friday previews and Black Friday on Thursday or Wednesday and well into December. So now I shop when I need to shop. Lately that’s September and October so I can spread the cost and make Christmas a guilt-free festival.

But there are even better reasons not to fall for Black Friday or Cyber Mondays or after-Christmas sales. They are as manipulative as any other bait to fish for consumers.

First, not all Black Friday sale items are much of a sale. According to NerdWallet, an online site about money matters, one Black Friday deal offered a KitchenAid Classic Plus Stand mixer for $199, about $30 under the regular price at most stores. Target beat that price 20 days earlier, offering the same mixer on November 8, 2013 for $183.99. If the consumer had bought earlier from Target, his savings would have been $46 instead of $30.

In addition, caveat emptor--Let the buyer beware! Buyers should not assume that everything in a Dollar General or Wal-Mart or Costco is available at the lowest price anywhere.  Some items are great buys, but many are priced exactly the same or higher than at other stores. Smartphone apps are marvelous inventions, and one of them will let you know if the price you’re about to pay is the best price.

If this is standard marketing procedure, it stands to reason that some Black Friday deals are not bargains after all. NerdWallet also reports that “many items advertised on Black Friday [sold] for prices that consumers could have obtained … as far back as last year." Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal declares: “Attention Black Friday shoppers: You’re probably wasting your time," adding that most items advertised for Black Friday are available for the sale price or even less at other times throughout the year, including the holiday shopping season post-Black Friday.

Furthermore, some workers will have a few more hours to indulge in turkey, dressing, family quarrels, and football. As sellers attempt to one-up each other, sales begin earlier and earlier so those workers have no holiday, one declared in honor of our roots--although the true story of our roots little resembles the one taught to school children featuring turkeys, Pilgrims, and Native Americans.

If sellers make the holiday null and void by opening their doors earlier and earlier, then no proclamation will save it. Soon no one will expect any store to be closed on Thanksgiving. Restaurants will follow.  They will recognize the value in weary shoppers in need of sustenance.  Then homemakers, Domestic Gods and Goddesses, and weary grandparents will realize that the Roast Beast need not be the day’s labor in homes across the land when professionals can slather gravy and cranberry sauce for us all. Thanksgiving might transition into just another day, observed by some and barely noticed by others.

But, perhaps most important, those workers upon whom we depend for our delight, those football players near and far, concussed and clear-headed, will have lost a key factor in their contracts: extra-duty pay for playing on holidays. America will never stand for it! We want our football, endless, endless football, sometimes better than any tryptophan-ed turkey in lulling us into insensibility, sometimes better than the best cardio workout.

So dear shoppers and couch-athletes, resist the call of one-day sales such as Black Friday! Stay home. Feast and indulge. We’ll all be better for it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

“… there’s a world of pleasure in contrariness” (Wendell Berry)

“… there’s a world of pleasure in contrariness” (Wendell Berry

Moyers and Company celebrated Wendell Berry, the man, his prose, poetry, and political activism, in an encore presentation of a program that aired earlier in the fall. I enjoyed both programs and encourage you to watch them both or read the transcript of each episode at the links provided. I promise you won’t regret the time you spend.

What struck me during the encore program was Berry’s answer to Moyers’ questions about despair and hope during this political season of denial and nay-saying. Like the anecdotal ostrich, people who wield power seem to have tucked their heads under the surface, content to ignore the hue and cry to protect Earth, feed hungry children, and deploy resources to make lives better. They have instead engaged in getting, acquiring, and hoarding.

Berry eschews these. Replying to Moyers' question about despair, Berry offers wisdom derived from experience, faith, and scholarship. He grants that all things seem endangered by capitalism, the siren song of wealth, and declares"

“’No amount of fiddling with capitalism to regulate and humanize it … can for long disguise its failure' to conserve the wealth and health of nature. ‘Eroded, wasted, or degraded soils; damaged or destroyed ecosystems; extinction of biodiversity, species; whole landscapes defaced, gouged, flooded, or blown up … thoughtless squandering of fossil fuels and fossil waters, of mineable minerals and ores, natural health and beauty replaced by a heartless and sickening ugliness. Perhaps its greatest success is an astounding increase in the destructiveness and therefore the profitability of war’” (Cited by Moyers from Berry’s 2012 lecture as a Jefferson Lecturer in behalf of the National Endowment of the Humanities)

Photo by Al Griffin

A state like the one Berry describes is reason for despair, but Berry has not forsaken hope and demonstrates his optimism through activism. He advocates for sustainable farming and the humane treatment of animals used for food. He sat in the Kentucky Governor’s office four days after all other efforts to communicate the harms of slicing away whole mountaintops in order to claim the coal therein failed. More important, he speaks to the strength and peace derived from being contrary.

“Going against men, I’ve heard at times a deep harmony thrumming in the mixture, and when they asked me what I say I don't know. It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way." Berry is also one among many, including Vandana Shiva about whom I’ve written in the past. She and many more are:

“The ones who are committed. These people. The country and I think Vandana could tell you, the world, is full of people now who are doing what I just said, seeing something that needs to be done and starting to do it, without the government’s permission, or official advice, or expert advice, or applying for grants or anything else. They just start doing it.”

One final and perhaps esoteric reason for hope, according to Berry, is the fleeting nature of this life and all things. Berry points out:

Snapshot by Connye Griffin, Taken from the Water, Autumn 2013

“The poet, William Butler Yeats, said somewhere, ‘things reveal themselves passing away.’ And it may be that the danger that we’ve now inflicted upon every precious thing reveals the preciousness of it and shows us our duty. Some of us, these people and their friends and allies that now cover the world, these people are free to acknowledge the preciousness of the precious things.”

In closing, let us remember the fictional icon, Atticus Finch, that inspired this blog. He stood up, stepped up, and never lost hope even when a suit of despair fit more comfortably. He believed in the power of one to make a change, and so does Berry who admits:

“… it’s dangerous to do acts of civil disobedience. I [Berry] think once you’ve crossed that line, well, something is settled.” Something rests within us when we summon contrariness for causes worth fighting for. May we all find our inner beings at rest while being contrary.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Affordable Care is So Much More than a Website

Opponents lament that the Affordable Care Act is a train wreck leading to economic collapse. They place a dollar value upon human life and believe suffering is inevitable for some, especially those who do not work as hard as they should. I say:

Tenet, the First.

Human life is not quantifiable except perhaps in intellectual exercises between actuaries and insurers.

Tenet, the Second.

Suffering should be alleviated. We must apply imagination, compassion, and collaboration to foster health and defend human dignity for all men, women, and children here and abroad. Time-tested, universal theologies, philosophies, moral precepts, and ethical considerations direct us to do so.


While opponents cry and fuss that a twitchy, glitchy web site is proof positive that the Affordable Care Act has failed, will fail, and cannot succeed--ever, we must remember that even without a functioning web site, the Affordable Care Act has delivered these benefits:

  • Approximately 20% of 14 million people shopping for health insurance in the marketplace for individual health insurance (as opposed to group insurance provided by an employer, for example) will NOT be rejected because they happen to have been born with twitchy, glitchy genes or cells that one day sprang to life as cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, diabetes, or any other of the thousands of diseases and problems that afflict us. In other words, a pre-existing condition will NOT force individuals to bear the full costs of their health care or die prematurely because they cannot afford health care.
  • No longer will insurers be able to use your premium dollars for overhead, administrative, or marketing costs. The 80/20 rule requires insurance companies to spend 80% of your premium dollars on your health care, and if they do not, return some portion of your premium dollars directly to you or reduce your future premium. In 2013, about 8.5 million Americans received refunds.
  • Young people without full-time employment from an employer offering group health care insurance are often unable to afford comprehensive health coverage, but now their parents can continue to protect them against catastrophic injury or disease until they are 26 years of age. The number-one cause of bankruptcy and repayment default is medical, affecting approximately 2 million Americans. More than 56 million will fall behind or forego some other responsibilities, saving for the future among them, because of the high cost of medical care. So the ACA is vital to America’s financial health, too.
  • No longer will individuals fear the loss of their insurance because they have reached annual or even lifetime policy limits.
  • More preventive screenings are now available with no out-of-pocket cost. No longer will insurers be able to require insured enrolled members to pay more than basic premium dollars for mammograms or colonoscopies and other preventive screenings.
Opponents have also tried to persuade us that Americans already enjoy the best health care system in the world and the best quality of life thanks to our health care. They lie.

“Among 19 countries included in a recent study of amenable mortality [mortality not related to health care], the United States had the highest rate of deaths from conditions that could have been prevented or treated successfully.” Barriers to health care and health insurance are factors in this outcome.

The Affordable Care Act is GOOD for America. It was legislation long, long overdue. It is SO MUCH more than a twitchy web site. It is SO MUCH more than regulation and reform. It is life-sustaining for individuals and the nation.

Tenet, the Third.

Remember that adorable dog in the movie Up? He wore a device to translate his thoughts into words humans can understand, but his doggie nature proved just how easily dogs can be distracted. While introducing himself, the dog suddenly swings its head and cries “Squirrel!”

Dear America, consider yourself as that dog, engaged in short bursts of conversation about health care until someone throws a squirrel into the room. That squirrel goes by the name of harsh criticisms about twitchy, glitchy web sites and fears about broken promises. That squirrel turned your attention from the real issues and sent you chasing after a distraction.

You’re not dogs, America! Focus, listen and learn. Above all, know how the Affordable Care Act serves fellow citizens.