The Suffering Environment

This morning I learned that the President of the US fired several scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency Board.  A few days ago, I read excerpts of environmental rules rolled back, some overturned, others under review and yet others in limbo. To the best of my knowledge, it has taken years to pass certain pieces of environmental legislation, but only a few short months to destroy rules that protect the environment which in turn, protect the lives of many.

 

Three of the most heinous are associated with coal mining: allowing the dumping of debris into local streams, not reporting methane emissions, revoking protection of public land use.  Again, with this administration, it is money over people.  An irony of the situation being that the people who voted in the administration are those most hurt by it.

I am clinging to the hope that the grass roots will rebel by throwing out the conspiring legislators in he next election.

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Facebook Today

When Facebook became available to any internet user who wished to “friend” others, I was invited by family and friends to join in this new social media. I declined. My primary reason for declining was that I did not want to wade through tons of pictures of babies, plates of restaurant food, kindergarten drawings or an infinites number of people of all ages blowing out birthday cakes. Little did I suspect that this so- called “social media” would become the news media, of real or alternative news.

 

The other day I read “Social Insecurity”, and article in the NY Times magazine in which I learned that Mark Zukerberg, the founder of Face Book, still believes in his original concept of helping people communicate with each other using ether. However, he is concerned that Facebook seems to have a greater and greater role in civic discourse through News Feed and “clickbait”. Both of those terms were new to me. If I understand these terms correctly, Facebook monitors the kind of quotations/articles that are popular among its millions of users, then finds additional articles that correspond to what is popular, recommending them to its users. “Clickbait” is the use of catch phrases as headlines that do not reveal the content of an article, but attract viewers to open up said articles to read.

 

Using algorithms that I positively do not understand (High school algebra threw me. I just about passed the easiest college math that I was forced to take). Nevertheless, Zukerberg and his people know how to use algorithms to determine trends and how to apply them to social media. It appears that the millions of Facebook users are getting their information either non-filtered, or filtered through the minds of persons of like-mindedness. Every opinion on any topic is given equal value. This is a bit scary. A vast number of people are not taking the time to think about things, let alone research facts and figures before arriving at decisions that impact themselves and society. This is the new media that is the message.

 

Marshall McLuhan must be smiling sadly; Thomas Jefferson must be turning over in his grave.

 

 

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A Capital Sin

For the first time in my life I find myself committing the capital sin of envy. I am envious of the accomplishments of young people who accomplish things, especially those things that improve the quality of life of others. Young technocrats are offering the world tools that help families, communities and societies communicate easily. Biologists and others in medical fields are bringing better surgical procedures and products to the sick and suffering. Film makers are spinning tales that defy the imagination in breath and depth.

 

There was a time within my sphere of influence, I helped to improve the quality of life of those in my charge. Little by little, I have lost my charges. Even when I do volunteer work for the needy, I feel disengaged, superfluous. Yet, I am here.

 

A friend of mine wrote to me recently and mentioned quite casually that Pope Frances says that prayer is the work of the old. To my mind, the Pope’s words make sense. My emotions, however, remain flat-lined. As the immortal bard said:

 

“Prayers fly up. My thoughts remain below.

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

 

Oh, well. If it is the best I can do, at least prayer might keep me from committing envy.

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Changes since January

Although I did not vote for the current resident of the White House, like so many other optimistic voters, I hoped that he would rise to the occasion. That does not seem to be happening, even though he and his party are determined to “make America great again”. That goal alone should cause one to wonder since America is great. Nevertheless, I admit that every nation can improve. However, the party which proposes to value freedom, Mom and apple pie, has funny ways to demonstrate loyalty to its mission and to its values.

Since January 2017, my optimism has changed to wondering and then to disbelief. It looks as if this administration is bound to make America great for a few at the expense of the rest of the population by changing many rules either by executive order/approval, or by congressional approval. These changes are as follows:

 

  1. Removal of human rights conditions check on arms sales to foreign governments
  2. No follow through on the Paris Agreement on Climate Control
  3. Cutting the education budget by 9 billion ( De Vos, the Secretary of Education, says that money is not a panacea.)
  4. Internet providers can sell client information. Internet providers can sell faster streams to one group of customers over another.

 

As if the above is not bad enough, I must question where the following actions will lead: the United States war footprints are growing in Syria while no peace proposals are on the table. At least five million people already have been displaced by the civil war in that country. And, the United States envoy to the United Nations accused the Human Rights Council of that body as being corrupt, while, from the other side of her mouth she called the United States the, “moral conscience of the world.”

 

As yet, the party in office right now has not been able to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, nor has it been able to destroy NAFTA, it is well on the way to making the United States the preferred home of oligarchy aficionados. Is that what is meant by “making America great again” ? Sigh!!

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Gifts

Several years ago, when my sisters and I were in our late 40’s-early 50’s, we decided that instead of giving each other presents for Christmas, the only time during the year that we exchanged gifts, we would pool the money that we would spend on gifts to give to a mutually agreed upon charitable project. On land -mark birthdays or anniversaries which we often celebrate with large dinner parties, we began asking our guests to bring food items for local pantries that distributed food to the needy. My sisters and I did not start a trend nor do any thing particularly altruistic, others have done and are doing much more for special projects by forfeiting holiday and special occasion gifts.

 

A few years ago, my neighbor’s daughter and son-in-law asked guests at their wedding to contribute to Saint Jude’s Hospital for Children with Cancer in lieu of giving the couple a wedding gift. Like many couples today, the couple had lived together for several years, accumulated great furniture, copious bathroom and kitchen items, loads of linens and made a significant down payment on a house.

 

The other day, I read an article in the paper that made me smile. It seems that couples are now putting charitable giving on their wedding gift register. This seems to be a latest trend. The only problem is, what charitable cause to choose. Some guests may not come if say, Planned Parenthood is the charitable cause.  Some couples are putting in “a charity of your choice” to insure that the invited guest would indeed attend the wedding. I suppose the really cold -hearted guest might say that he/she had donated to a favorite cause, pocket the money and go to the wedding feast anyway!  What a way to get a thank you card!

 

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Memorare

Because I couldn’t find my house keys I was forced to look at trees. The desperate search for my keys made me late for one church service or very early for another. I opted for waiting in the parking lot of the latter house of worship where the stark, naked branches against a gray winter sky reminded me of my departed husband.

 

My husband was an art professor and an artist. His early works were often of black leafless trees against pale skies. Sketching these natural images provided him with food for his thoughts and his imagination. To my husband, the ever upward longing of the bare branches were suppliants toward heaven. His drawings of them were his prayers.

 

I sat in my car and remembered the man with whom I’d shared so much hoping that his “prayers” were answered.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Talk about Strategic Planning!

 

Minorities living under the power of arrogance always have had to out-clever those in power to survive, and, in some cases, thrive. For example, When Spain controlled Southern Italy, taxes were determined by the kind and size of the houses of the poor farmers. Whenever the farmers heard that the tax assessor was in the area, they dismantled their stone houses, bit by bit, leaving a pile of stones while families slept in the fields for the tax assessor to see. It worked for a few generations.

 

The best modern day example of out maneuvering done by the relatively powerless against the arrogance of the powerful occurred in Liberia, Africa in 2005. At that time, Liberian women elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf president of the country.

 

After 15 years of civil war under the leadership of men, three determined women decided it was time for a change, Ms. Gayflor, Ms. Freeman and MS. Jabateh. Discovering that only 15% of women eligible to vote were registered, these women bought bull-horns, went out into the countryside to encourage women to vote. They gave out T-shirts and bags of water. Most importantly, they went into the market places where women tended their stalls and their babies and sent sitters to take their places so that they could register and/or vote. Their registration strategy was successful but the best was yet to come.

 

The field running for president of Liberia consisted of 22 men and one woman. The winner had to get 50% of the vote, not possible with so many candidates. The two receiving the most votes, a soccer player and a grandmother were the candidates in the run-off election. Here the story becomes a “mind blower”.

 

Near the voting stations, women set up stalls where they gave a glass of beer to any man who would give them his voting ID. Many young men did not realize that they would need them to vote again. At the polling stations, the lines were long and discouraging. Those in charge allowed pregnant women and those carrying small children to go to the front of the line. Those in charge never seemed to realize that they were seeing the same babies over and over again as women passed the children from one to another! Mrs. Sirleaf won, 59.4% to 40.6%.

 

To get the whole story, look for Helen Cooper’s Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf coming out shortly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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