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In charge of change (another delayed post)

Posted by on 21 Feb 2016 | Tagged as: children, citizenship, climate, economy, editorial, environment, hope, Making a Difference, musings, politics, Politics and War, Uncategorized

The orginal post was almost finished in January 2009. Here is the original, and how I would finish it now:

It seems to me that a lot of the time people expect government to step in and do clean-up, not matter what the troubles, whether big or small. And it seems to me that, sometimes, government just isn’t equipped to do things especially quickly, or in small doses that might be effective before things reach a crisis state.

Now, I believe we are facing a crisis. And I don’t believe that the crisis is “not as bad as” the one we faced in the Great Depression; or the Cold War; or any of a number of Capital-Letter Events this nation and the world have faced. I believe this crisis is unique and will have far-reaching, long-ranging effects. I don’t know that there is anything particularly special or noteworthy about the crisis other than:

  • millions of people around the world are losing their jobs with little hope or prospect of finding a new one with similar (presumably livable) conditions soon.
  • the climate is changing and there are other conditions making agriculture difficult over large areas, causing crop failure and famine for millions of people, with the predictable political upheaval and conflict.
  • posturing and saber-rattling by military and para-military forces around the world, not unlike that before world war one, and world war two, the cold war… and every war and conflict.

It isn’t any one particular scruffy-looking person on a street corner that indicates homelessness is increasing. It isn’t any one particular “For Sale” sign on a street the indicates the failure of banks. It isn’t any one bank failure that indicates economic melt-down.

It isn’t any one particular event that indicates wide-spread disaster, no more than any one particular monsoon or melting glacier doesn’t indicate global warming is occuring (I hope that I don’t need to explain that global warming is happening?).

The signs of increasing homelessness were my first clue that the economy was in bad shape — and getting worse. Naively, I thought government was keeping tabs on things and would somehow have things in place to avert total disaster. Just as I, naively, expected the military to be able to effect winning campaigns.

Of course, I thought the military would have sufficient support from the bureaucrats who ordered them into battle. And I supposed that the regulatory commissions in charge of finances had the resources and rules in hand to avert the kind of disaster that followed the greedy policies prior to the Wall Street crash of 1929.

Naive. Yes. Perhaps wishful thinking as well — wanting to not have to be responsible or reactive to things not immediately under my control. Going about my own business, doing what I was supposed to do. Noticing of course that there were more people on street corners, that food banks were running low, that more houses were for sale for longer… and I noticed these things before they were on the news. Did I stick my head in the sand? Did I expect too much of my elected government? Did I fail to meet my own obligations?

Like a peasant who expected the liege lord to be sure that enough of the tithes and rents and fees were put aside in case of disaster; I have found instead that those relief supplies were long-since consumed by the departing denizens of the manor-house as they hosted others of similar means. Regardless of the origin of the crisis, the peasant children starve, people die. Though good intentions may now take hold, the new lord lacks the resources to contribute in any meaningful way to alleviate the suffering.

The government finds itself in a similar situation today. Though we have a new president, administration, and the legislative branch is also updated, there is little that remains for them to do.

So what are WE, whether peasants or higher-ranking vassals, going to do?

We can choose to //

I suspect that when I finish a post in mid-sentence that I was called away for kid-duty.

In the case of this post, perhaps it was also related to the hip issues I was having that year, or the class I was taking.

I would now alter the term “global warming” to the more accurate, and less-likely to be misinterpreted climate change. The rest pretty well represents my thinking, and, sadly, how prescient I was.

We are seeing the effects of governments’ lack of action in a world-wide, drawn-out recession that seems to stall each time some progress is made. Strange weather patterns of drought, extra precipitation, heat, cold, and winds are becoming more common. Low-lying nations are ravaged by combinations of higher tides and more violent storms. As I finish this post in February 2016 (seven years later), Fiji is recovering from a direct hit from a Category 5 cyclone. The overall U.S. Economy has recovered from the deep economic woes of the past decade, but by creating lower-wage and part-time jobs that keep the poor in their place and benefit the rich and powerful. Those of us who have been “middle class” are less and less likely to have extra for things like savings accounts, visiting relatives who live at a distance…

Politicians, this being a presidential election year, refer frequently to helping the “middle class” which increasingly, by their metrics, includes families who are barely scraping by. And families earning a quarter million dollars a year. They rarely talk about working class people, or those who live in poverty while working more than full-time hours at multiple jobs.

Finally teaching, I see the effects of twenty-plus years of misguided political directives on my students. In the failed refusal to support young families by means other than the barest minimums; by failures to fully fund education (Washington state legislators, I am pointing this finger at you); by ignoring overseas hostilities and human rights violations until the issues turn into full-fledged war; and by an increasing disregard for the realities of life on our planet, in part because of irrational fears over science (or is it self-serving economics that makes these politicians work to protect fuel sources that damage the planet and fail to promote measures that heal?).

I am angry about this. My sons, now grown into fine young adults, are starting out in a world that reeks of protectionism, isolationism, racism, and secularism. The founders of our nation would be shocked to see the petty tyrants mow fighting for supremacy in our land. They would be, I think, appalled at the careless disregard for human life, for dignity, and for giving all people a fair shot at pursuing happiness.

So here we are, seven years on from the original post, and I am still wondering if the people of the United States have the fortitude to do what is necessary to take back our nation. Do we have the wisdom to make changes in our personal lives in spending/purchasing, work/career, civic duties?

I purchased a used hybrid car to make my commute of over 30 miles each way to save on gasoline even though it is a big chunk of my take-home pay. We recycle, even though hauling it to the curb twice a month is inconvenient (our driveway is longer than most yards!). We eat mostly locally grown, mostly organic foods that are expensive, but have a lighter footprint for fuel and carbon production. My peculiar allergies mean we purchase many things that come from a great distance but, where we can, we do choose local! We vote…

What can you do? What will you do?

{edited several times for typos due to composing on an ipad… ]

Difficult Times

Posted by on 31 Aug 2013 | Tagged as: caring, citizenship, editorial, Making a Difference, musings, politics, Politics and War, Uncategorized

I generally try to avoid politics here.

I feel, however, it is important to express important things.

And right now, I want to express my sorrow at the escalation of wars in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I am distressed and concerned about the possibility for a very serious and wide-ranging involvement.

What can we do?

What follows is “more of the same” concerning my focus on citizen participation in government and education.

Continue Reading »

What really matters

Posted by on 24 Nov 2012 | Tagged as: editorial, Family Matters, friends, Gardens and Life, good things, Making a Difference, musings, Uncategorized

I started this month with every intention of making my goal of 50,000 words for the NaNoWriMo challenge this year. But between working, the conference and this last week when I really couldn’t write, I know I won’t make that goal.

And it’s okay. I made it almost to 18,000 words, which would be a reasonable amount most months. Here is a small graphic that shows how close I got to my goal:

They aren’t good words, the story doesn’t hang together and it’s not worth revisiting. I posted the writing I did as PDFs, but rather than linking to it here, I will tell you it’s under the Fun category, subcategory Literary Pursuits. If you choose to visit it… ye have been warned! (insert pirate laugh) And so I am letting go of this goal. I can try again next year, perhaps my mind will be more clear and I will be less distracted and distractible.

I went to the National Council for the Social Studies convention in Seattle last weekend. It was everything I had hoped for, and then some. I had to make some tough choices about what sessions to attend and what sessions I should hope to hear about later. I intended to go to a naturalization ceremony that was presided over by the amazing Sandra Day O’Connor, but I was so miserable with allergies that I decided to take some antihistamine and wander around the exhibitors’ hall. I was sad to not see one of my heros even from a distance, but it was better to rest and take care of myself than to push.

Because I followed my intuition, I met several people I would have missed otherwise, and a wonderful man, Dr. Mark C. Schug, and I had a nice conversation about his book Economic Episodes in American History. I like the innovative approach. Viewing history through economic decision-making allows students a lens to think about how their own decisions affect their lives — future lives, as well as present — and to see how other people have chosen in similar situations.

I also met Susan Austin, who gave me a copy of her book, The Bamboo Garden. A fun, easy-to-read novel I am enjoying reading it slowly when I am in the car waiting for kids. It is set in a time that we don’t often think about, and the painterly descriptions of people and places are marvelous. I am thinking about how I would use this book to teach intermediate-grades empathy as well as descriptive writing (something that I enjoy helping students learn).

I had intended to read voraciously this past week and this weekend, all the materials I obtained at the convention. But my eyes, which struggled so much in grad school, decided to hit me again. Between all the reading I was doing of materials that are not printed at a size that works for my eye defects, the dry air of the convention center, the antihistamines and sheer exhaustion I have barely scratched the surface.

So I am letting go… the materials will be here on the days I don’t work, I will have plenty of time to read over the two weeks of winter break and on the inevitable snow days this winter.

The garden is in decent shape, though already I have lost a few plants that should have been brought inside earlier. We have pruned two trees, and vacuumed out the cars today. We didn’t dig up the dahlias, and we didn’t move all the gardening equipment down to the wellhouse yet. It will happen, and the garden next year will be a lot quicker to start and a lot easier to maintain.

It is hard to let go, to realize that it’s okay to not get to everything. It is hard to choose which single thing should be done today, this moment, and which will simply have to wait until time, energy, opportunity or money allow.

I had a lovely conversation with a friend on the phone this evening. We could have talked for hours, but we talked about mostly one thing, and then let the rest go until another time.

I have been thinking about the loss of my dear friend, Hetty, earlier this month. When I saw her last time, I promised that “next time” we would play scrabble… and next time won’t happen. I won’t get another chance to see Sandra Day O’Connor, either. I won’t have another chance to attend the workshop that was titled “Teach Like a Pirate” (I heard later that it was excellent). And I won’t be able to bring back the dozens of dahlias that disappeared over the last many years.

But in the time that I have had, I have made progress. When I was with Hetty, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. And when I attend a different convention someday I will have other opportunities.

What really matters, in the end, is not what we intend to do, or what we didn’t do — what matters in the end is what we are doing in this moment.

What really matters, is being present to what we are able to do, right here, right now.

What really matters?

Poem a Day April 7, 2012

Posted by on 07 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: citizenship, editorial, NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month, science, social justice, Uncategorized

Mitochondria (suggested by Krista)

subtle organelles
of true

L’Engle wrote
long ago
in time
a wrinkle:
the difference between

compared to

the greatest danger
in science
is unknowing
and not caring
when knowledge is lost


and we whistle while we work

I first heard the term mitochondria when I was about ten, I think, reading A Wrinkle in Time. What stuck with me was the amazing intricacies of science, how little “ordinary” people know and how easy it would be to forget it all.

I know I read a little about them when I was in high school, when I was studying for a biology test (I never took biology, this was an extra-curricular competition), and then not again until microbiology (see yesterday’s post). Their purpose is simple: take the materials that the phospholipids let through and use them to make power. I like the Cells Alive page about them, it is short and easy to follow. Biology for Kids also has a great explanation. I am always astonished and excited at the infinite possibilities and the rare and wonderful coincidences that create life as we know it.

For me, what popped into my head today was the effort of the bad guys in the Wrinkle in Time series to erase the work and knowledge of science. Science threatens abuses of power. Knowledge threatens despotic regimes. It is true that, generally, life goes on in the wake of serious abuses, but at what cost? Knowing how the world works, the mechanisms that drive life, allows us to enhance, to make choices that can save lives. Yes, knowledge can also be used for evil. But at the risk of getting too far onto my soapbox, I believe that the greater the number of people who understand, who know, the less likely it is that knowledge and science can be used for negative purposes.

I see, today, a rapid and relentless attack on the progress that was made during my own lifetime — a rejection of so many positive things; an attempt to create a new generation of people who know so little they cannot discern fact from fiction and who therefore readily follow any leader who makes pretty promises. As a teacher, my biggest goal in life is to share what I know (admittedly a drop in the bucket) with others, to help them retain excitement and to contribute in their own way to the lives of those around them. In remembering the past, in preserving and promoting knowledge, we can create a future that is ever better.

Vote for Kids

Posted by on 05 Feb 2012 | Tagged as: children, citizenship, editorial, Uncategorized

hoping this won’t sound too preachy…

In Washington State, at least on our side of the mountains, there are many school districts with levies on the ballot for February 14. These are “Maintenance and Operations” levies. Most of them are replacements for expiring levies (there is a two-year limit on levies) and are not asking for an increase in funding. Some districts appear to be asking for LESS money than in times past.

What does this levy (tax on property) pay for?

  • Building maintenance and operations (heat, lights, repairs, custodians, etc)
  • School buses, fuel and drivers (especially important in rural districts that also historically are low income and with few options for transportation)
  • Specialist Teachers (music, art, physical education)
  • Instructional Materials (textbooks, consumable materials -lined paper for early elementary students, etc)
  • Support Services for students with additional needs
  • Fees for out-of-district services (in my district this also pays for our high school students who attend out of district)
  • Other necessary expenses that are not (fully)funded by the State or Federal sources

How important is this money to the local schools? Depends on the district, of course, but for us it pays nearly 30% of the expenses each year. Until the state begins to meet its constitutional (state) obligation to fully fund basic education, these levies are even more important.

Clearly, more affluent districts find it easier to raise money to support the schools. Less affluent districts find it more difficult, and generally have fewer options if a levy fails. All districts depend on the levies to supplement the incomplete funding from other sources.

Why should you care if you don’t have school-age children?

The children in school today will be working within ten to fifteen years. They will become responsible for the maintenance of public facilities, the preparation of our food, the care of elderly and infirm patients, the transportation of people and materials, public safety, national defense, medical services… and so forth.

Without a well-rounded, competent education today’s children will not be able to provide the goods and services that we need. More than “reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic,” courses in social studies, the arts, sciences and physical education provide critical thinking and lifelong skills and dispositions that help our children develop into healthy and capable adults.

One of the ways we keep our country strong, and our families safe, is by making sure the children have the best possible chance at life.

Please, vote to support your local schools. And, pay your taxes.

And, as you can, volunteer time to support schools, libraries, senior citizens… continue to make space in your life to make the world a better place. It’s not just self-preservation, it’s the right thing to do.

Just angry enough…

Posted by on 21 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: citizenship, economy, editorial, politics, Uncategorized

…to post my extreme dissatisfaction with the United States House of Representatives for leaving all of us working people in the lurch, wondering if we will have enough left over to make ends meet in the new year. THEY have gone on vacation, secure in the knowledge that their transportation to and from work and home is paid for (by tax payers), that their health insurance (paid for by tax payers) is ready to go if they get a boo-boo while skiing on vacation, that their homes are not under foreclosure, their refrigerators have enough food, their winter jackets are warm and their hearths are cozy.

Not so for us, the tax payers. We pay them to do a job, and they have not done it. We pay them to monitor, adjust and rethink the infrastructures that allow us to benefit from OUR hard work. But WE, the tax payers, the WORKERS are seeing our real incomes erode, whether from job loss, cutbacks in hours, increases in costs to work (transportation being an important one), increases in the cost of food, clothing and medicine. Increases in the necessities.

Granted, the intended temporary decrease in payroll tax places a greater burden on the social security system in the future. But at this point in time, raising that back to the original amount creates a current, real, measurable, and potentially devastating hardship for those of us who are close to the edge. And those who are already having to put off buying groceries, or pay the light bill, or wait to seek medical care? It will hit them, too.

The less money we have in our pockets for the necessities, the less we have (obviously) for luxuries. Let’s face it: Right now, our economy depends in great measure, on people having money and time to spend on luxuries — movies, dinner out, consumable goods, leisure activities and supplies.

So the House of Representatives thinks they have earned a vacation?

Let’s give them one next November. Let’s give them a nice, long, extended vacation where they will have time to search for a new job. Maybe if they feel the pinch of insecurity they will have more compassion for those of us who are already searching for jobs, or feeling insecure in our jobs, or employed but wondering how to afford the increased costs when income is stagnant or declining.

UPDATE: December 27, 2011

So the House pulled its head out of its posterior long enough to pass the two-month extension that the Senate had already passed. Before going on vacation. What chutzpah! So now we have two more months of congressional ineptitude and posturing to contend with while people who are more interested in campaigning to keep their seats try to figure out how to squeeze the citizenry of the United States even dryer.

Here’s an NPR story on what’s going on Congress Really is as Bad as You Think.

I’d wish us all a happy new year in a few days, but I just don’t feel that optimistic.

Liers and Lives

Posted by on 05 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: editorial, Uncategorized

When Kraft Foods purchased Cadbury, a community and family-centered confectionery in England, part of the agreement was that they would continue production at the English plants.

Of course, their operating motives were different from their stated – agreed on – intentions. This is the news from the BBC today: Kraft to close Cadbury plant

I buy so few products from Kraft anyway, but I will not purchase their products any more as my way of protesting this serious breech of contract. And their general lack of integrity.

Passages: Sam Hinton

Posted by on 11 Sep 2009 | Tagged as: caring, citizenship, editorial, Gardens and Life, good things, hope, Making a Difference, musings, passages, Politics and War, social justice, The Fallacies of 911, Uncategorized

Sam Hinton. The world will miss you.

Though I never had the chance to meet Sam personally, I grew up looking through a book he had written and illustrated on the sea life of the coast of California. I think we all grew up knowing some of his songs.

As an adult, I rediscovered him through his granddaughter who became a penpal, and have set a goal to learn how to play the harmonica, an instrument both my grandmothers played, as well as Sam. But he was far better than any of us!

Far better, not just with the harmonica. It seems Sam was one of those bright stars who light up the lives of everyone they encounter. He brought new awareness to the beauty and fragility of the oceans. He helped re-introduce folk songs to the United States, founding a local group where he lived. He genuinely cared for people, individually and collectively.

He was a good man.

Today, there are tributes to the insanity of war. I would much rather our nation and the world focused on those people and events that heal… people like Sam. People like the public school teachers who do so much with so little for our children. People like hospice volunteers, designated drivers who take their role seriously, emergency responders. People like street performers who play the fool or bring us beauty, people who dream of better things, and those who help us unite around common causes.

Today, let’s focus on the essence of being “American” — not our beliefs, our language, our politics; let’s focus on the American willingness to stick our necks out for strangers, to stand up to injustice, to speak our minds in the face of tyranny. Let’s focus on that wide-eyed optimism coupled with hard-earned skepticism that allows us to simultaneously be enthusiastic about new prospects while spotting the flaws in time to fix them. This, more than our affluence, our laws, our governmental structures, makes Americans unique.

[Side note for my friends in other places: how do your countries’ traditions and legends inform your sense of self? What are the qualities that make your people unique and ready to set the world to rights? In other words, how would you define your positive national identity?]

Let’s look at what has gone wrong in the last decade, and the reasons for failure, and let’s do the right thing: fix the problem, and get on with our lives.

We don’t need to dwell on the horribleness of everything in order to pay tribute to the brave and innocent who lose their lives in tragedies. We can focus on the gifts they brought to the world and help realize their vision.

Rather than focusing on the gap Sam leaves behind as he exchanges one existence for another, I am going to focus on the ways he enriched the world, and how I can emulate him to the best of my ability. I think, if the world had more Sams in it, there would be fewer 9/11s.

inauguration day — anticipation

Posted by on 19 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: celebrations, citizenship, editorial, Gardens and Life, good things, hope, Making a Difference, Peace Making, politics, Politics and War, social justice, Uncategorized

In fifteen hours, give or take, Barak Obama will be sworn in as President of the United States. The whole world waits with anticipation, some eager, some fearful. Many have expressed their ideas through speeches, editorials, marches. Though it is possible to directly send ideas to his “team,” I haven’t sent much. I just don’t know which of my hopes and dreams to articulate, what is the highest priority?

  • Do I hope for support for families that are able to afford to have a parent stay at home — something along the lines of having those year(s) “count” toward social security retirement and disability status?
  • Do I hope that education will become a higher priority than incarceration?
  • Do I hope that children and adolescents will be given developmentally appropriate education and support?
  • Do I hope that remaining areas of wilderness that contain fossil fuels will be protected, so that the earth can begin the long process of restoring ecosystems?
  • Do I hope that people will regain their sanity as it relates to employment — doing a good job for reasonable pay, benefits and some security?
  • Do I hope that the insane profit-taking of the last twenty years will end and business owners and shareholders will return to a healthy appreciation for the worker?
  • Do I hope that the United States will, rather than run roughshod over other sovereign states, re-engage in a polite and respectful dialog with them?

Yes, and more.

I am still in the middle of gathering my thoughts. Anticipation…

3 a: visualization of a future event or state
4: the early sounding of one or more tones of a succeeding chord to form a temporary dissonance

(from Merrian Webster’s online dictionary).

I chose just two of the definitions, the first being the one I considered as I began to write this post. I, like millions (billions?) of people around the world, have certain ideas about what the change in administration will mean. I have ideas about how history will now shift; hopefully away from the aggressive, antagonistic policies of the outgoing administration that alienated many forms allies, and toward a more inclusive, cooperative set of policies that re-invite the world to participate in solution-finding.

And then, as I read the definition, the last concept hit me – between the ears, as it were: We are moving away from the bombastic final chord of a martial movement in the symphony of our history. A new note is sounding — a clarion call, fresh and new as the next movement gathers itself before bursting into full harmony. How will the lingering chord resolve? How will the first hestitant notes of the next theme find their way? What surprises are in store?

Prices Fluctuating

Posted by on 13 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: economy, editorial, Politics and War, poverty, Uncategorized

After several months of overall fuel prices dropping in our area (we got down to $1.76 for gasoline at the closest stations), they are now rising again.  Almost 30 cents in two weeks at the local station which yesterday was at $2.08).  No, it’s not my imagination, here is a link to KIRO TV’s article about the phenomenon.  What I don’t understand is why the prices rose so quickly, so dramatically, in the absence of any obvious trigger.  Yes, it’s winter — but usually gasoline prices fall in the winter.  Yes, we had a massive snowstorm followed by major flooding that cut off our section of the country for a few days.  But gasoline (and natural gas) here is delivered primarily by tanker ships and pipelines — our fuel supply was not limited.  And prices rose before new deliveries were made…

Washington state does not have a law against price fixing or profit-taking on necessities.  Perhaps it needs one. Meantime, we will cut back even more on our driving, as much as possible, given that the reduced gasoline prices were almost offsetting the increased cost of food. I really don’t know how people who are close to the edge financially are coping.

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