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28 March 2010

The CONSTITUTION, BASIC RIGHTS, AND TRUTH


I’ve been getting in trouble lately, posting on Facebook and list serves and generally being surley and certain and sometimes, people have thanked me for being on their side, other times I've made people mad, but rarely for being factual or for being inaccurate. The liked or disliked what I wrote because they agreed or disagreed with my opinion.

We don’t seem to care much about facts. For example: it’s a fact that some Canadian government official came to America for surgery. That might suggest that there’s an American doctor with a better reputation for the surgery the official wanted, or a hospital that would provide quicker service for a price than he could get in Canada. It doesn’t prove anything about the Canadian health care system or the kind of care I could afford here in the US. It’s a fact that 70% of US bankruptcies are the result of catastrophic medical care. It’s a fact that Canada pays 75% of what the US does but has a lower infant mortality, longer lifespan, and a healthier population. Those facts by themselves might prove that their system is cheaper and better, or it might prove that Canadians are healthier people, or something else.

It’s interesting. We rarely applaud people for stating facts, but for supporting our prejudices. Sometimes we don't even seem to care about the difference between what we believe to be true, what we wish was true, and what is, in fact, true.

I was watching Law and Order the other day and a man was arrested for sexual trafficking in children. He made the defense that he was not himself a child molester, but was only involved in it for the money. Somehow this seemed to make his actions forgivable on the show I was watching. He was given the opportunity to plea bargain in order to get the “real” offenders. And I had to wonder what is wrong with the writers of the show that committing an atrocity is forgivable when it’s done for profit rather than sick compulsion. The pedophile needs to be locked up because he's a menace to society; the other guy just wants to make a buck and we let him go? How low does he have to get before we say money is not a valid excuse? How low before his right to earn a profit is curtained by what is decent? [That's me editorializing.]

Our nation was founded on certain principles and our law is based on our Constitution. [Fact.] Check out the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Amendments. There’s nothing there about a right to profit. In fact there’s nothing in these documents about private enterprise, capitalism, or free market. Not one word. [If my memory is wrong, someone will correct me. I’ll admit it’s been a while since the last time I read the whole thing. But I have read it several times both for what it contains and what it does not. The Texas education department removed Thomas Jefferson from the list of great thinkers at the founding of our nation. Yes, they cut the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, the man who began the Library of Congress and brought Thomas Paine over from England to speak Common Sense. Maybe Tom Paine isn’t on their list either. Big, big sigh.]

In a recent wrangle online, someone complained to me that Obama is “hostile” to small business. Is that a fact? I wonder if maybe I’ve been defining “small business” incorrectly. I look around my community, which is mostly small business. Techtronix owns a mansion up the beach from my house, but they don’t actually operate in my county. We have Safeway and Shilo and Costco, but they don’t support our local schools or nonprofits any more than they must or come to community meetings, and no way are they small. I think of small businesses as the local motels, restaurants, groceries, retail stores, the fishers and farmers, dentists and so forth. So I’m counting the small businesses that people run alone or with the help of family or a dozen or so hired people. Often they can’t afford medical insurance for their employees and sometimes not even for themselves. They sometimes earn a lot more than I do teaching school, sometimes a lot less. Mostly they work hard and are active in the community because they live here and their children go to local schools. They want their community to be employed because employed people go to work and pay their bills; they want their kids to have the best of everything and that means they want a thriving, safe community. It’s pretty hard to have a thriving community when the only way a segment of the local population (in my county it might be a majority—that’s not a fact I have verified) can afford medical care is to show up at the emergency room. Changes to the health care system might ensure life for some of these people. Remember those words—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? It's about the right to live.

It's a fact that some local people stay in jobs they don't want because they "need the benefits" and that as a result some small businesses can't "get good help" because they can't compete with Costco. Nationalized health care might level that particular playing field. That last is an opinion, my guess.

And here's another opinion:

I don’t think I have the right to profit at the expense of other people. I don’t mean that I and people in business don’t have the right to earn what others must pay for. I mean that I don’t have the right to make others suffer in order to get rich myself. I believe it’s immoral to make others go hungry so that I can have gold-plated faucets, to make others go without medical care so that I can have a second or third home in Bermuda or even a second car or a new bathroom. I think it’s wrong to participate in illegal activities merely because there’s money in it for me. That’s the reasoning of criminals. I’d go further. In some ways making a profit at the expense of others’ welfare seems a lot worse to me than stealing because you are hungry or breaking into a house because it’s raining and you’re homeless. It doesn't mean that I don't appreciate that laws make clear that breaking and entering and theft are wrong. But on a hierarchy of needs, I guess I think we should all have a safe place to sleep, food, medical care, free education, honorable employment, all those basic things, before anyone gets to live in a mansion. That's what I think.

Politicians like to flatter Americans by petting our ego and telling us what a kind and generous people we are. It’s both true and not true. Most of us, faced with suffering, will rush in and help. But Americans also have a deeply competitive spirit, an obsession with wealth, a tendency to blame the poor for their lack of success, and a firm conviction that the law is intended to control criminals and not us. But this is the beginning of another rant…

19 March 2010

FLOTSAM & JETSAM

Last Saturday, I felt that the wind had been right and the tide was right for floats. Gary went out before our run because there was something on the beach that looked like a glass float and turned out to be a black plastic float with a skim of something making its surface iridescent. We went out intending to run only about 3 miles on the sand, but there were floats everywhere—black, orange, white, and blue plastic; floats with rope and plastic lines attached; floats made of plastic and polystyrene foam; floats no bigger than my fist and floats the size of medicine balls. I insisted we run all the way north, even though we had to walk off the beach and around to get past Shark Creek, which was running high. The first glass float I found was large with a puncture in one side and a ding on another with radiating cracks. I’d never found a large baLl before—Gary’s found a dozen—so even broken, even seeing it at the same time Gary did, was a prize for me. It is an odd color, turquoise and barely a sixteenth of an inch thick where it had the dime-sized hole. I can’t imagine how it had survived all those years at sea before being thrown up onto the rocky shore for me to find, and maybe it will crumble—I thought it would all the miles I carried it. I saw the second glass ball before Gary and walked right up to it—one of those glass floats that is the size of s softball and the color of an old Coke bottle.

We covered the entire beach and then drove to Hug point and ran that shore; then on to Shorts Sands and we ran the long trail to the beach and covered that narrow stripe of sand as well. By the time we were done, we’d been moving for two hours and covered over 8 miles—four of them at a run. I double my life find of floats from two to four, and I brought home a striped stone, two strands of seaweed decorated like a necklace, and several plastic floats. It was a glorious day!

In fourth grade I was in a special class that read TREASURE ISLAND—it didn’t occur to me for decades that this was because I was smart—and we learned the meaning of flotsam—what is lost—and jetsom—what is tossed—at sea.

Over the years I’ve lost friends and tossed a few. I regret both groups. I’ve tossed old clothing, books, scraps of paper, pet theories, furniture, and other trash and under-appreciated treasures. I’ve lost very few things I treasure. The copal bead I found in the U District when Toni and I were about 15 is still in my treasure chest. It was stolen by a neighbor child and discovered in a garage. It hung from my neck for years and I hope to find a way to wear it again. But I am entirely too attached to objects. I could jettison most of my possessions—keeping the copal bead, my grandmother’s watch, the ring I wear every day. What I miss as I grow older are my illusions, my goals and ideals. I am sorry that I no longer believe I will publish three novels, that I might never see Crete or Arabia. I still argue that claiming world peace and egalitarianism are impossible goals is a cop-out, a way to avoid having to do anything about them. But I fear now that I will never see them realized, and for most of my life I believed things would improve. In so many ways they have. Still, my country is overwhelmed by technology and affluence. We have forgotten that living a quiet, modest life does not require 4000 square feet of housing with granite counters and all stainless steel appliances, two cars, and walk-in closets large enough to house one of the cars.

I hope to jettison a good many objects this summer—there isn’t time this Spring Break to make a good start—such as pounds, books I will never read again, ribbons and toys and cute things I never needed and do not need now. The flotsam I might regret, but the jetsam—the glass floats and my great grandmother’s ring—those few treasures I hope not to lose. I hope to run the beach nearly every day, keeping my eyes open for treasure the sea might toss my way.

13 March 2010

RECENT POSTS on FACEBOOK

I have a friend who doesn't do Facebook and wanted to know what I was posting lately. So here it is:

13 March—FOOD INC. [this is the longer version Facebook wouldn't allow me to post.] I’ve just been watching the movie and I will say that none of this is news to me. I became a vegetarian in 1990. I had seen close up and personal what a feed lot was like. A friend told me about slaughter houses. I did some research. I visited farms. Like most people I didn’t like to think about how animals were slaughtered. It was soon apparent that I didn’t want to think about the way they were born, raised, fattened, and transported either. I decided I shouldn’t participate in a process that I couldn’t stand to think about.

10 March—Today, William Leroux was talking about the assignments we've been doing in Honors since the "Reading for Writers" was completed: "I feel like I got run over by a rhino and then this squirrel comes along and bites my toe." [I wrote it down]

9 March—[on the local news] Two little girls were "threatened by a coyote." Were they injured? Did the coyote bite them? When the girl ran away because she was scared, does she think it couldn't catch up to her? She said she'd never seen a coyote before. Sometimes people are so stupid about wildlife. And you know who is going to lose in that scenario.

Later the same day—For the record: These two little girls ran away from the coyote. WRONG. Stand, wave your arms around. You run, you act like prey. Yet the coyote didn't harm them. Obviously this was not a hunting coyote—a youngster or one raised by people. Another woman complained (COMPLAINED!) that when she called a coyote it came to her. Well, duh, if you don't want the coyote near, don't call it! Honestly. Leave them along, bring your pets in at night, keep a close eye on your chickens.

[I also posted about my decision to teach another ten years and about the education workshops I've attended this week, but not about the budget issues in my school district. There was a time when 15 years of higher education and working 30 years as a public school teacher (not to mention another 3 in a private school and over a decade as a substitute) would have earned me a modest retirement. Thanks to recent changes in the retirement in my state, this will earn me at 67 a retirement of somewhat less than half of what I now earn teaching. My expenses will drop slightly because I won't drive 14 miles to and from school each day in my 49mpg VW. Other than that I'm a little concerned how I'll cut my expenses. I understand that many people in private industry with equivalent education and experience have no formal retirement other than savings, but they are also earning considerably more in the workplace for those 30+ years. I have former students entering this profession which no longer deserves them. Eventually, younger teachers will understand that without any investment in the old retirement system (I have several years) they will never be able to retire on a livable income—despite being compelled to pay into it throughout their working life. I wonder what will happen then? If we want to improve public education, we might just have to pay for that. A fellow teacher suggests that we have a self-pruning industry—40% of teachers don't last past year four. They go back to waiting tables where the hours and the money are better. If doctors were paid as badly, how many people would feel safe going to a hospital? I'm just saying... my little whine for the day. I'll stop now.]

...but the wonderful thing was hearing from former students who recalled assignments such as the "Reading for Writers" (often with horror) and microfictions (with affection).

07 March 2010

WORK

Every morning for almost five years now we have taken our saluki Yeti out for a walk. For the first year, before the rabbits lured her off the beach, she also ran free at least once every day. Now that we must keep her on leash, the walks are even more important for her mental and physical health. For our own health, Gary and I ran four days last week, which allows a comfortable trot for Yeti. Yesterday we ran five miles, this morning three. We always run at least three miles. When the tide is out far enough to expose sand we run on the beach, when the tide is in, as it was early this morning, we run on roads. Every morning we wipe her feet after her beach run or walk, dusting off sand from her feet, and shaking it out of her long plumy tail. On mornings we must run the roads, her feet are dirty and it’s harder work to clean her feet. She doesn’t enjoy this fussing, but she stands patiently while we do it.

There are routines that each of us suffer as necessary to the good stuff. The rewards for our patience are the glory moments that happen only because we suffer the tedium. There are the faculty meetings that allow for the teaching, the scoring of really awful papers that allow us to get to the brilliant ones. Everyone who hates getting wet but takes showers in order to be clean or eats dinner to get to dessert or runs to afford chocolate or drives to get someplace interesting… we all know there is a certain amount of tedium or inconvenience to be suffered in order to get to the good part, whatever we perceive the good part to be.

Friends of mine have an online literary journal that features fine poetry and prose. An email alert to a recent issue seemed to suggest that work is all tedium, something we suffer merely in order to have the paycheck. I think perhaps it is for some people. My first job at Taco Bell was awful, but that wasn’t the work, which I prided myself in doing well at 16; it was the management who was the nasty bit of work. I've hand delivered junk mail and organized events. I’ve worked in record stores and a bakery and a quilting store and enjoyed learning everything I could about each of them. I’ve freelanced as a graphic designer and drawn architectural plans for new homes and remodels, which paid better than my next job. I’ve taught for Upward Bound and a girls prep school, a community center in Seattle and the Bellevue Art Museum. For more than thirty years I’ve taught in the Seaside School District, though only 20 of those years count because the rest were as a substitute. I’ve been a student all my life.

Each of my jobs has something I need to put up with—the equivalent of having to stand still while my feet are wiped. It's worth it to get to the good stuff, because despite what some people seem to feel about their own work, I’ve mostly enjoyed mine. My jobs have been like a run on the sand, exhilarating. I have almost never felt that going to my job was a sacrifice of my time, but that it was a meaningful way of spending it. In other word, work isn’t something I do in order to live, it’s life.

Speaking of work, I have a lot of it today, at least eight hours of work to prepare for school, but I think I will do only part of it. At least some of it will have to wait, while I attend to other work for which I am not paid. I have reading to do, some more writing, friends to email, taxes (okay, so doing the taxes aren't fun at all), and planning for my next term. It’s Sunday, after all, the day of rest, and while I look forward to a bit of rest—watching the Academy Awards this evening, perhaps—what I really want is to attend to other work.

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