Saturday, April 30, 2016

I missed several days of blogging because of being occupied with friends in Goshen. Here I would like to report — share — one moment.

My good friend Ervin Beck took us to see quilts in the gallery of Good Library. What defines these works of Mennonite craft is that they have been handed down by the maker to a later generation. There, in that gallery, I was among my people.

This is an Amish-made quilt patterned after the established design called “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.”


This next one “takes me back.”  Did Grandma Good piece and quilt — among the more than 100 quilts — this block pattern?


My favorite of the show is this one, I suppose because of the details in the fabric that suggest to me not just one star but the myriad of stars in the universe.


These are my quilts. These are my people.

The economy

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Are you like me? Going along in more or less neutral and then you see, as on a billboard, a word or idea or report that makes you ease to the side of the road and there start to think.

That’s been my case this week. It began, as I reported two days ago, with the lead article from this month’s Atlantic written by Neal Gabler. I offered a quote earlier; here I will list several statistics assembled by Gabler.

  • Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 in a crisis. At issue is their high level of debt which would make it difficult to find another source of a loan.
  • Only 38 percent of Americans would cover a $1,000 emergency-room visit or $500 car repair with money they’d saved.
  • 55 percent of households don’t have enough liquid savings to replace a month’s worth of lost income.
  • 71 percent are concerned about having enough money to cover everyday expenses
  • Nearly half of American adults are “financially fragile” and “living very close to the financial edge.”
  • Median net worth has declined steeply in the past generation — down 85.3 percent from  1983 to 2013.

What in the world is going on?

I live in a rich country, one of the most affluent on earth. Who could possibly arrive at a sum of the wealth in this nation?  Today I drove an errand on our Indianapolis beltway amid four and five lanes of rapid traffic. I had to think of the financial value of only what I could see from the car. Yet this is just one little dot. The U.S.A. has resources beyond comprehension.

Yet many people can’t live from one paycheck to the next.

My first thoughts had to do with expenditures — the choices we make of what and when to make a purchase. That line of thought led me to ponder the expenditure for debt, paying off the principal and interest for purchases made in the past. I pulled up a website, Nerd wallet.com  — the average household credit card debt in this country is $15,762.00. The average total household debt is $130,922.00.

Something seems out of whack.  In one of the most affluent nations in the world, the average household debt is $130 thousand dollars?  That’s DEBT.

How might we interrogate this situation? What questions should we ask?

  1. Do American make bad choices? If so, why?
  2. Does affluence cause a wake that rocks all Joneses and those who want to keep up with the Joneses?
  3. Has this post-modern culture conditioned us to want more than we need?
  4. Is there something systemically faulty in the economic framework in which we live?

This last question takes me into territory I know little about. How I wish I would have taken three or four economics courses in college. Despite my ignorance of both macro and micro economics I have a hunch that economic theorists would have something important to say to our situation.

So I am sitting on question # 4. Is the system ill?  And just then I pick up the Washington Post and see Max Ehrenfreund’s report “A majority of millennials now reject capitalism, poll shows.”

  • “The Harvard University survey, which polled young adults between ages 18 and 29, found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Just 42 percent said they support it.”
  • “‘The word ‘capitalism’ doesn’t mean what it used to,” said Zach Lustbader, a senior at Harvard involved in conducting the poll, which was published Monday. For those who grew up during the Cold War, capitalism meant freedom from the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. For those who grew up more recently, capitalism has meant a financial crisis from which the global economy still hasn’t completely recovered.”
  • “A subsequent survey that included people of all ages found that somewhat older Americans also are skeptical of capitalism. Only among respondents at least 50 years old was the majority in support of capitalism.”

My question “Is the system ill?” may seem at first glance to be the result of my reading or by being brainwashed by Candidate Sanders. Actually no. I regard him highly, but don’t think he has the depth and breadth of political thought to be President. Yet I recognize that he knows far more than I about an economy running a high fever.

Are you like me?  (I asked that before.) So here I am by the side of the road trying to wrap my mind around something far too big for the wraps I’ve got. And then comes a friend — my friends are my wealth — who recommends that I read an economic theorist who has informed him.

So that’s where I am. Delving into the  writing of Chris Hedges. I will report later.



Monday, April 25, 2016

This month’s cover story in The Atlantic is titled “The Secret Shame of the Middle Class; Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 in a crisis.”

In brief, people don’t have savings. Their money is tied up in loans or credit card balances. Daily expenditures gobble up income. In other words, many people aren’t able to live from one pay check to the next.

I commend the author, Neal Gabler, for his thorough and candid report. He counts himself among the people he is writing about.

The trail of my after-thoughts branches into two paths. In one, I review the many reasons for gratitude for what we have: a house, a monthly Social Security check, a modest retirement kitty, and income from a spouse who works in a fair-trade store.

The second path has me thinking about expenditures. Might I suggest that the middle class in America, of which we are a part, makes  five kinds of expenditures, probably many more.

  1. Needs.  Necessities for living.
  2. Desires.  Expenditures to maintain a desired standard of living beyond “basic.”
  3. Impulses.  Spur-of-the-moment purchases.
  4. Obligations. Payment of debts for past expenditures.
  5. Charities.  Helping others.

This categorization falls apart, however, by the variability within each one category. People differ on how they define basic needs. The range of desires is as broad as the middle class is wide. What one person defines as impulse buying another will define as necessary diversion.  We define our obligations differently, just as we differ on how soon we pay off our debts. And how can one define fully what should be dedicated for the wellbeing of others?

OK, but I won’t discard the five-part picture of expenditures because it may help me think through what I intend to buy in the next month.

— Crocs  (Mine have now lost their straps.)
— sand for re-laying bricks in the garden
— getting the dents in the car repaired
— graduation gifts
— coffees with friends
— on and on and on

There is a mantra I seek to follow: less is more. But I recognize the limits to that fair phrase.



A privilege

Sunday, April 24, 2016

By this time quite a number of my friends in their upper 70’s have moved into condos or controlled residential centers or senior centers where they enjoy the privilege of not having to do outside work such as snow removal in the winter, lawn and garden upkeep in the summer.

I enjoy the privilege of continuing to do these things. By saying this I do not intend, nor do I feel, a put-down of my friends. One of these years we too will opt for fewer responsibilities.

During this string of clear bright spring days I have taken delight in outdoor chores.

  • dressing the succulent bed
  • setting in the canna bulbs
  • netting the strawberry patch
  • turning and watering the compost pile
  • adding fish to the old farm trough
  • planting beets and radishes
  • cutting the grass
  • opening the rain barrels
  • picking up kindling
  • reducing several of the tall grass clumps
  • potting pachysandra
  • digging out mint runners
  • pruning shrubs

While the list may suggest a massive work load, know that our lawn and garden are small. None of those chores is onerous.

Adding to the enjoyment is the neighborliness of the street. Ted has helped me cut branches, I gave pachysandra to Merrill, Frank and I chatted today as I worked the strawberry nets and he hung a garage door, Jason stopped in to swap information on our gardens and various walkers extended greetings, some of them stopped to chat. The world doesn’t feel so out of joint on spring gardening days as this one.

Street protesting

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Chris Hedges, a long-time journalist, book author and now a columnist for truthdig.com was arrested this month in Washington. He had joined the street protests sponsored by Democracy Spring against the corporate take-over of our nation.

“Until corporate power is overthrown—and it will be overthrown only from the streets in sustained acts of civil disobedience—the nation will continue to devolve into an authoritarian police state. Corporations will continue to strip us of our remaining rights, carry out the deadly assault on the ecosystem, impoverish workers, make a mockery of our democracy and cannibalize what is left of the country. The system of corporate power is incapable of reform. It must be destroyed.”

Such strong words have been suggested by both the Trump and Sanders campaigns. Although their lexicon and demeanor differ substantially, both men argue that political insiders do the will of Wall Street and corporate elites. A nuanced opinion deserves our consideration:
“Neoliberalism and globalization have been unmasked as tools of corporate exploitation. The billions spent on propaganda to maintain the illusion of democracy and the benefits of the “free market” no longer work. The endless wars, which have not made the United States, Europe or the Middle East more secure, are now unmasked as blood-drenched arms markets for a war industry bloated with trillions of taxpayer dollars.

The war industry and the fossil fuel industry, like all corporate systems of exploitation, are at their core systems of death. They assault a planet that needs to swiftly build green infrastructures and egalitarian social systems that make life possible.”

While I am no equal to Mr Hedges I wish to join the conversation by bringing up once again the concept of, and the reality of, the social unconscious. The concept’s definition goes something like this: in every culture (be it a settlement, a tribe, an incorporated village, a city, a state or any other more or less definable and established social grouping) the individuals that make up the social unit share a common understanding of life in general and behaviors in particular. While a goodly portion of this shared understanding is conscious enough to be talked about, argued and lived there is a substantial chunk of assumptions and dispositions, biases and inclinations that are down underneath, so deep people aren’t aware of them.

The best way to learn about the social unconscious is to come personally to a critical issue — almost always occurring  when one is located outside one’s native social unit — that serves to uncover, sometimes quite rudely, elements of the social unconscious one has heretofore taken for granted.

I will offer one very embarrassing example. In Spain for a year, I found no way to keep our Fiat on the road legally for more than six months. We needed a car. At a moment of exasperation I went to the central customs office to plead my case. As was often the situation, the official behind the desk (and the seal) was being addressed simultaneously by four or five shouters. When I finally got to the desk I began “I am an American and …” The official glared at me. “That’s OK. I’m a Czechoslovakian.” His sharp retort unmasked my assumptions about American exceptionalism — a topic I have thought about many times since that moment. By the way, it is difficult here in Indianapolis to gain a perspective on our notion of exceptionalism. In Spain, it was easy to see.

Now that I have introduced the social unconscious, I wish to apply it to the so-called corporate and elite “take-over” of America. While I too am aware of the enormous power of of money, I am not fully enough versed to call it a “coup de etat.” Perhaps it is. What I AM convinced of is that this nation from early times built its “house” on private enterprise capitalism and thereby honored the man (yes, usually a male) who aced this economic system. From earliest times society accommodated  the man of means, the man who pulls himself up by his boot straps.

This preferential treatment has, over the decades, gone underground so that the populace at large isn’t conscious of

— the entrapment of poor people in ghettos
— the inequality of opportunity for rich and poor children
— the price of health care, prohibitive for many people of modest means
— the difficulty of getting round if one doesn’t own a vehicle
— the continued discrimination in housing
— the better infrastructures (streets, sidewalks) in rich neighborhoods
— the power of multinational companies
— the foreign policy that is dictated by economic returns

and the list goes on and on.

While I am located left of center politically, I can not abide the giving of more than $200,000 to Mrs. Clinton for one speech. Yet people seem not to question what such a payment buys.

How can our society be made aware — that is, lifted up and out of the social unconscious — in order to know the effects of this concentration of economic power?

Mr. Hodges who has used many venues — news reports, books, columns — to express his opinions about vital issues opts at this point to answer the above question by joining a street protest. My hat is off.



Friday April 22, 2016

I’ve adopted the little town of Darlington in Montgomery County. Among its charms are a dozen or so old buildings.






Edging the town is Sugar Creek.


Beyond that edge are fields …

DSC_0569 (1).jpg

lanes …DSC_0571.jpg

sheds …


a horse or two …


and farms.

DSC_0573.jpgOh, I forgot. The town also has a nice farmer’s table at a MiniMart and downtown there is a bakery that also sets out a mean biscuit and gravy breakfast.

Today at 100 acre wood

Wednesday April 20

The Toro cart leaves the greenhouse parking lot at 8 AM. Only Steve is with me; Brad is on the mower and Chad was gone. We drive under the bridge …DSC_0504.jpg

to get to 100 acre wood. Steve goes first to the parking lot where we pick up trash from last evening’s visitors. Then we park close to the lake …

DSC_0493.jpg where we begin digging out invasive plants such as mustard and honeysuckle, the latter occasionally producing a large root system that requires more than just a tug of muscle.


One of the perks of my volunteer job: if I see something I’d like to photograph, they are pleased to let me go shoot. Or, when it’s time to take the mid-morning break, they drive around to show me something. Today Steve calls my attention to wood poppy …


and Virginia blue bell.


What I find on my own varies greatly —


the tulips …


tadpoles …


dogwood …

DSC_0473 (1).jpg

or a toad.

Late in the morning I dig up some unwanted pachysandra that I will share with two neighbors here on Bolton.