“Deplorables”

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Emmanuel Wallerstein:

Why do workers vote for rightwing (even far rightwing) parties? Why do those whose standard of living has been declining or who live in rural areas with weak infrastructure support a man and a program based on decreased taxes for the wealthy and reduced safety nets for themselves? If one reads the statements they make on the internet or in answers to queries from news reporters, the answer seems clear if complex.

They know they have been doing badly in terms of income and benefits in the regimes led by more traditionally Establishment presidents over the previous twenty years.

They assert that they see no reason to presume that continuing the previous policies will improve their situation.

They think it is not unreasonable to assume that they might do better with a candidate who promises to govern in a completely different fashion. Is this so implausible?

They believe that the slightly redistributive promises of the previous regimes have not helped them. When they hear these same regimes boast of (and vastly overstate) the social progress they have made in aiding “minorities” to be better integrated into governmental programs or social rights, it is easy to understand they associate redistribution and minorities, and therefore conclude that others are advancing at their expense.

Understanding the motives of others does not mean legitimating their motives or even negotiating with them. It means we should pursue social transformation realistically without blaming others for not supporting us by arguing that they are making errors of judgment.

Response

When Hillary Clinton used the term “deplorables,” I flinched. Now, with hindsight, I recognize how condescending and judgmental was and is the term. As I join Mr. Wallerstein in attempting to understand the consciousness of Trump supporters, I am newly sensitized to terms that derogate, debase, devalue and dishonor those whose moment in national history and, in fact, in international geo-politics is different from mine.

How to apply the same consideration to Mr. Trump remains, for me, inconceivable. This is not an issue of party politics and not an issue of opposition to a particular proposal he brings to the presidency, but rather a personal angst about the human being that he is.  Am I merely camouflaging the term deplorable? 

Happy places

Monday, March 20, 2017

No, I was not at all surprised when I saw the list of ten happiest places on the continent.

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden

Conversely I was surprised that the U.S. came in as high as 14. The shared emotional mien among people I know is way, way down.

According to Jessica Durando’s report, printed in USA TODAY, nation-wide happiness may be correlated with wealth (Norway has oil.), a low unemployment rate, low income inequality and climate. Life expectancy, freedom, social support, trust and generosity “also  count.”

John Helliwell, professor at the University of British Columbia, attributes high scores to “high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance.”

Here is how I would rank “happiness” countries that I have visited or lived in. This list is highly subjective.

  1. Costa Rica (1968-80, 1977-79, 1988-89)
  2. Canada (numerous times)
  3. Chile (2009-10)
  4. United States
  5. England (1996)
  6. Argentina (2009-10)
  7. Italy (1974-75) — not sure of the year
  8. Thailand (1987, not counting the refugee camps)
  9. Cuba (1958-59, the week before Castro took Havana)
  10. Spain (1972-73, the final year of the rule of Francisco Franco)

With all this in mind, I turn to the Jewish blessing: may you have peace, may you be happy …today.

Walking (21)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Walkers typically keep time
in one of two ways — miles or minutes.
The note at the end of this unit
shows one of my timekeepers:
year to date mileage.

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An unexpected discovery
for me as a regular walker
is encountering nature whose clockworks
are operated by three phenomena —
the earth’s rotations,
the earth’s tilt,
and the earth’s trips around the sun.

Measured by my own inner clocks,
nature’s clocks are s—l—o—w.

Night and day.   

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Summer, autumn, winter and spring.

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A walker’s steps are fast; nature’s changes are imperceptibly
slow, excepting for interruptions of wind, water, quakes, ice —
most of which we seal ourselves away from,
in our human shelters.

When I began my dedicated walking,
I tried to open myself to discovery.
I did not expect one of the surprises to be time.
But currently, after adjust my walking sticks and set my pace,
I am invited into nature’s time zone.

The stillness of the forest,
The slowly drifting clouds,
the lapping of wavelets
become the second hands of nature’s clock.

In that ambience I turn from trying to set a speed record.
And thus I begin a walk at the moment of a tick-
and finish about the moment of the -tock.

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Year to date mileage: 224

Walking (20)

March 17, 2017

Trees bless a three-mile walk. Seldom am I looking at my feet taking step by step. Instead, I look up and often what my eyes fix upon are trees.

You’ve seen my favorite sycamore.

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Most of the trees, of course, don’t have that charisma. In fact, many are nameless, part of a forest, but no less worthy.

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When my eyes sweep across a forest, I think of those many trees that have never been looked upon, that spend their entire lives incognito. Other trees happen to close to a path or road, but perhaps even many of those trees are never closely examined and appreciated for what they are.

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This spring when buds and leaves appear, I want to enroll in a self-taught class in identifying trees. Up till now I am drawn to particulars such as bark …

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and root systems …

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and structure …

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location and habitat …

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and what seems to be ambience.

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I like old dead trees that have maintained their sense of humor.

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and, in contrast, those that are solemn pillars in the community.

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Hmmm.  What might it be like to walk a day without seeing a tree?

 

A lovely ode

Thursday, March 16, 2017

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Rudy Schouten has written a long, lovely ode to his family. Fortunately the rest of us are invited to read the story, all 539 pages of it. Please do; I recommend it. (Find it on Amazon.)

Rudy’s is not an attempt to expose the follies and foibles of family dynamics nor to air grievances from days gone by, a practice all too common in family histories. Rather, he completes this project as a way of expressing his wonder of the lives of the people he so loves.

It is a story of an immigrant family — father, mother and seven children. The title of the book, Above the Waterline, conveys several different meanings including the struggle to stay above water financially, personally and socially.

I like the book very much, largely because of three attributes. 1. The author’s research. 2. The author’s attitudes. 3. The author’s graceful prose.

The author’s research.

Rudy Schouten’s family originated in Holland but Rudy was an infant when the family emigrated. Thus he dug out the information through conversations and extensive historical research.

His father and mother, not aware of each other as children, grew up in the land of canals, windmills and tulips. It was a friendly and folk-like culture that was brutally devastated by Germany in World War II. Rudy’s family experienced first-hand the carnage and cruelty of the invasion. His father, as a young man, was arrested and imprisoned at Kamp Amersfoort. There he took ill within a week, yet he experienced horrors few of which he was able to talk about. As his health declined to the point of being of no use to the captors, he was thrown out on the street on October 17, 1944. Fortunately he was picked up, “literally,” by the International Red Cross. He found his way back home for a long period of recuperation.

But the war left Holland deeply bruised. We Americans think of the immediate post-war crisis in terms of German cities and towns devastated. Not on our consciousness was the lack of food, particularly in Holland. Schouten’s father and mother, after postponing their wedding for several years, struggled to make a living for a family; jobs were few and resources long gone. The government tried in many ways to assist its people. One such gesture was to remove some of the obstacles for those who were inclined to emigrate. Mr. Schouten, after exploring possibilities in Cape Town, unilaterally made arrangements for the family to emigrate to America and forthwith informed his wife. The family with five young children, left Holland on Friday, February 8, 1957. Rudy, an infant, remembers nothing of the trip.

 

Struggle did not cease upon the Schoutens’ arrival in New York. Plans for Mr. Schouten to work in the Detroit car industry fell through. Eventually Sisters of Providence in Indianapolis through Catholic Relief Services conveyed an invitation to the Dutch family. The Schoutens accepted, not knowing on the long train ride, what lay ahead for them.

Their first home for this large family who spoke little English was in the boiler house behind St. Agnes Academy, just north of city circle. Mr. Schouten was given a job as caretaker at the academy and SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Among the first adjustments of the family was the modifying of their names to fit the American ear and tongue.

The author’s attitudes.

At this point in the book more of the reporting comes from Rudy’s own memory. Thus what he says is shaped not so much from “the records” but from his perspectives molded by personal fact and fancy. In Rudy’s case the “fancy” is a rich mix of a child’s recollections, inquisitiveness, work and play and a whole lot of humor.

While neighbors and school mates played large on Rudy’s screen, his first love was his family — their meals, especially. His father was demanding, yet fun loving. His mother was a steady, sturdy anchor to this family whose habits had been shaped thousands of miles away. Rudy’s keen observations of even his siblings are graced by regard. I did not read of broken bones and bloody noses. People are human — even priests and nuns — and Rudy does not make them saints. He has a way of making the reader smile at the idiosyncracies of human beings.

What the reader is never allowed to forget, however, is the extraordinary effort demanded of an immigrant family to “make it” in a new world. The Schouten family worked extremely hard, not only when living on the St.Agnes property, but after they bought a run-down house at the corner of 22nd and Delaware Streets. However, Rudy does not allow hard work to become an excuse for complaining.

 

The author’s prose style

A final point of admiration for this book is Rudy’s prose style. He did not follow his father’s trade in pounding and cutting intricate metalwork, but rather turned to writing. For more than thirty years Rudy worked in the corporate world as an associate, manager, and then vice president of marketing services, positions that called for the cultivation of effective writing.

I characterize Rudy’s writing as vivid and thus accessible, precise yet unpretentious, personal yet selfless.

Examples will illustrate what I mean. In the first sample Rudy writes truthfully yet graciously about his father as a young adult in post-war Holland.

“Pap saw the downside of his new job early on. He said the working conditions at the factory weren’t very good, but he didn’t elaborate, so it sounded suspiciously like misdirection around a larger concern — maybe the concern of seeing that the work was never going to solve his occupational restlessness. Something was still missing, which meant he couldn’t stop looking for something else. Despite his valuable contributions, Pap walked away from the Leidse Operaten Fabriek after only four months. This time, though, he didn’t leave without a solid plan.”

 

The Schouten family arrived in Indianapolis without money. Their “home” was the boiler house of the St. Agnes Academy.

“Mam found the kitchen not quite as well equipped, but it had a icebox and an old stove in working order. Food was the bigger concern. She noted that we started with an empty cupboard. But it filled up spontaneously. Or was it miraculously? … . Mam said it wasn’t hard to see that the deliveries were not the result of the sisters running errands to the local grocery store. Contrary to convent rules, the goods were being smuggled to the house from supplies in the academy pantry. As Mam and Pap quickly discovered, not all of the sisters would warm up to the new family next door, but a select few would make a point of going out of their way, early and often, to lend a helping hand, even if it meant doing so under cover of darkness and without the approval of the mother superior.”

When finally the Schoutens owned a house:

“Mam confirmed that one of the parting gifts to us from the sisters at St. Agnes was a little chick, something with an Easter theme for the kids to remember them by. What was not debatable in due time was that the little beast was, in fact, a rooster. We named him Herman, and Herman followed us quietly and without protest to the new house. But as pets will do, Herman got bigger and louder, and not all the neighbors were enamored with his enthusiastic crack of dawn wakeup calls from our back yard. Considering our location in the city, that was probably to be expected. Also not surprisingly, Herman fell suddenly silent after just a couple of months of free-ranging in his new digs. We knew it was possible he ran away, but a persistent rumor, promulgated happily by my father, had it that the man in Apartment 204 was the culprit. It just seemed logical to assume Herman ended up in a pot on the stove at the Tasty Bar-B-Q. And from that point forward, we always referred to the man in the middle apartment as ‘Chicken Killer.’”

I will share one final excerpt — the last paragraph.

 

“We were all children of good fortune. John and Trudi Schouten always found something interesting to laugh about. They were forever grateful for the “little things in life” and the people who helped them at every stop along the way. And starting with their glorious days of childhood on the Dutch canals, that’s exactly what helped them live full, happy lives just about the waterline.”

This family story — all 539 pages — offers to us in this moment of our history a refreshing view of immigration, family life, citizenship, respect and hard work.

Indiana

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

While my first love shall always be Pennsylvania, I enjoy singing the praises of Indiana.

— lovely flatlands, the Wabash and Ohio Rivers
— remarkable state and local parks
— four major universities, other distinctive universities and colleges
— several leading seminaries
— major manufacturers
— professional athletic teams
— an attractive capitol
— several nationally ranked medical centers and networks
— major medical insurers

But I am sad to read that Indiana shares with Nevada and Oklahoma the lowest life expectancy in the nation. If I were a working journalist I would try to find the dozen highest contributors to this unwanted distinction. I am left at this point to make educated guesses. Here are seven.

  1. Indiana is known to have a high rate of obesity.
  2. Rural areas, particularly in southern Indiana, are experiencing high levels of drug addiction.
  3. Indiana’s cities all have pockets of intense unemployment and poverty.
  4. Despite the many fine institutions of higher education, Indiana has one of the lowest levels of residents with a college education.
  5. The state has a high number of single parent families.
  6. Gun violence has pushed up mortality rates.
  7. A conservative government has not provided enough money and other support for family and child services.

This is not a blog I enjoy writing.

 

 

Health insurance

Sunday, March 12, 2017

This weekend Paul Ryan said, pertaining to the proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, “It’s not our job to make people do something that they don’t want to do. It is our job to have a system where people can get universal access to affordable coverage if they choose to do so or not. That’s what we’re going to be accomplishing.”

In my words,

  1. Ryan and his colleagues don’t want to force something on people. This is the land of the free.
  2. If people want health insurance, let them buy it. If they don’t want health insurance, that’s their decision.

Something very large is missing in this understanding of the American people. A percentage of them — perhaps 1% or 3% or 5% or 10%, I don’t know the exact figure — can’t afford to purchase a low-deductible health insurance and at the same time to pay for survival basics such as food.

On two occasions I was at the neighborhood pharmacy, standing behind a person at the counter who, upon hearing what a medication would cost, had to decline the purchase because of not being able to pay for it. Has Paul Ryan never met such people?

To be fair, I think it must be nigh impossible to create a nationwide, private insurance-supported health care plan. How much easier would it be to excuse private insurers and have us all pay into a central fund which could give a basic protection for all people. If average life expectancy is an accurate measure, our system is not the best in the world, nor second best nor third. We have catching up to do. The current proposal won’t help us do that.