Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Sun, a Bird and a Green Glass Pickle

It’s only a few days to Christmas now, the gifts are bought. The parcel of small gifts for “the kids” in Switzerland has finally been mailed. Alas, it won’t arrive until mid-January, but that’s what comes of having -20 to -25 C daytime temperatures since the last week of November. 

I still need to wrap the very few gifts I bought for us. I even wrap the stocking stuffers, since it’s so much more fun to have a half-dozen surprises to unwrap, even if they are only a bar of hand-made soap or a tin of foot creme.  And it’s fun for me too, because once I’ve wrapped something I immediately forget what it is. Surprise!

Hobbes at eight weeks meeting Smokey
And Hallelujah! Hobbes the Ripper is four years old! (Where did the time go? Only yesterday he was this big!)  At any rate, because he is now grown and behaves minimally less like Attila the Hun I decided to try putting up the Christmas tree. He poked about in it a bit, but when I threatened him with the water bottle he shrugged and said, “It's not all that interesting anyway. Not enough to get wet for.” 

To tell the truth I unpacked the old tree, which I bought in Dec of 2006, to find the lights didn't work. It was one of those trees with fibre-optic lights. I always strung lights on it, because the fibre-optic lights were so wimpy, but I'd been stringing the lights on the stick tree I'd been using and they packed up and died last year. And when I plugged in the tree the other day, the fibre-optic lights didn't work either. I set off to buy a new string of lights and couldn't find any - all the trees these days come pre-strung with lights. I guess when a light-bulb burns out you toss the tree! Since the fibre-optic tree was 10 years old and distinctly down at heels and I couldn't find a string of lights I bought a meter (40") tall "porch" tree. It was pre-installed in a pot and had a strand of lights pre-strung. It was that or a two meter (seven foot) white tree. When I opened the box I found I had two porch trees! Since I have no room for two trees I left one in the box and put the other on the end of the big bookcase/entertainment unit. Up top you see a cloth doll, a replica of a 17th century homemade doll with a painted face, made by my late friend and doll artist Judi Thomson. Next to her is my sock monkey 'Bimbo', circa 1951, made by my greatly loved and missed sister-in-law June, who passed away in 2010. June made sock monkeys for several of us kids that Christmas. I have a picture of us, standing at attention, clutching our new dolls and sock monkeys, solemn as a row of little judges.  

When I was decorating the tree and saw that Hobbes had jumped into Tony's easy chair, rolled over onto his back and was sound asleep I felt brave enough to unpack the blown glass suns, birds and fruit. In addition to a flock of birds there are strawberries, grapes, pears and an astonishing green glass pickle. At the top, in lieu of a star, is a leaping deer, for our Deer Clan roots. 

Even with the dining room table awash in wrapping paper and ribbons and the 1st  Christmas tree up in the living room in four years, I’m still not in much of a celebratory mood. The news, here and abroad, is enough to break the stoutest heart.  

Still we must have hope that good will prevail, though darkness seems to gain ascendancy for a time. As I was checking out my groceries a couple of days ago I commented on the unique way the cashier wears her hijab. It's quite lovely, and I told her so. We chatted a minute or two and I learned she was from Persia. I told her that my father-in-law spent quite a bit of time in Persia in the 1930s, living and traveling with the Bedouins. He said they were the most wonderful, hospitable people in the world. He brought back a beautiful copper-tray table with a folding base, engraved with figures of people and with Arabic script. I described it to her and said it is a family treasure. As I left I wished her a good day and she did the same and then she thanked me, for saying her hijab was pretty, but most of all she said, 'for saying kind things about my people'. It must be difficult to come to a new country where so much suspicion is aimed at you. Most Canadians are more accepting of Muslim immigrants than are Americans, but not all. 

We continue to pour our wee drop of oil on troubled waters - and what a decidedly antithetical metaphor in these days when 'oil on water' means disaster and not peace! But we made our monthly KIVA loan (our 81st) to Martin’s Group, a cooperative of nine farmers (Martin, Kusesi, Joshwa, Keneddy, Julia, Wafwana, Richard, Philmon and Patrick) in Sirisia Kenya. Their $500 loan will allow them to buy seeds and fertilizer for their fields for this coming season. Martin's Group is part of the One Acre Fund whose clients are subsistence farmers who grow corn, beans, and other food crops to feed their families. Kenya suffered a terrible drought this past season and crops were reduced by an average of 68%. Farmers in the One Acre Fund program did, on average, much better than those not in the program. 

This is Martin, the group’s leader. He is 40 years old and has five children. He has been a farmer for 18 years and is a very hard working individual. He started working with One Acre Fund in 2011 because he wanted to increase the quality and amount of food he was able to raise. The One Acre Fund provided him with seeds, fertilizer and training in how to maximize crop yield through improved agricultural practices. Since then, Martin has been able to consistently feed his family. This year he decided to represent his group because he wanted to help other farmers.

Martin’s Group will plant a total of 4.5 acres of land this season. Additionally, some of the men in the group will be purchasing a solar light. These lights allow children to do homework since it grows dark at 6:00 pm in equatorial Africa, and it is difficult to do homework by candle light or lamplight. 

On Christmas morning I’ll sit and think about Christmases past shared with loved ones who are now far away, or gone, and think about how lucky we are in the scheme of things. Of all the important things in the world, we have what matters most, love and peace, within and without. Oh, were that true for all who walk this earth. 

May you and yours have a peaceful and blessed Christmas. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

What Sparked Childhood Memories

For Dia de Meurtos I bought a six pack of the little six ounce size Cokes, in the same kind of green glass bottles Coke came in when I was a kid in the 1940s. 

Having a soft drink was a real treat in those days. Soft drinks weren’t kept in the pantry or fridge, and they certainly weren’t considered appropriate for a child under six years of age, and soft drinks containing caffeine weren’t given to children at all. What we were allowed was 'Kayo', carbonated chocolate milk which cost five cents a bottle, which we purchased at the laundry across the street and up the alley. 

The laundry was a big building with high ceilings and doors that opened right up on both ends. It was always hot and steaming and smelled of lavender soap, scorch and hot starch. The floors were rough, and always wet, cement, cool to our bare feet.   

The square galvanized washtubs were arranged in sets of four with a wringer that swung between them. Four or five women took care of about 30 sets of these tubs. It was like watching a dance, as the women in their aprons moved between their groups of tubs, endlessly moving laundry through the four tub sequence that took it from dirty to clean. 

By the time the laundry reached the fourth tub it was nice and clean, and the woman might add starch, or if the laundry was white shirts or sheets or table linens she might add a bit of bluing from a bottle in her apron pocket. 

At the end the clean clothes would have the water wrung out and they’d go into a big basket and a man would carry the basket outside so the clothes could be hung on the clothesline. In one corner several women worked over ironing boards, and it was from this corner that the bewitching smell of scorch and starch arose. 

I would hang over the edge of a tub to see the agitators churn back and forth and watch the clothes rise and disappear again in the dark water,  but my friends were far more interested in the soda machine, and would pull me away. 

The machine that dispensed the sodas was magnificent. We discussed at length how it knew when you had inserted your nickel, because my friends Tommy and Leslie knew boys who had actually tried to remove a soda from this very machine without paying and the machine would not let them!  Tommy said it had to be a thinking machine, a scientific marvel such as only seen in our Flash Gordon Comics. 

The marvellous thinking machine was an ordinary-looking enough box. It was red in colour with “Drink RC Cola” emblazoned across the front and it had a thick lid you had to lift. Inside it was lined with galvanized metal with a series of channels from which soda bottles hung by their tops. The channels ended in a single channel which allowed you to bring your bottle of choice to the front where there was a gate apparatus which could be lifted. You inserted your nickel, slid the soda bottle you wanted along the channel to the end, brought it to the gate, and lifted your bottle out. 

Of course there was first the difficulty of obtaining the required nickel. To do that we collected bottles, raked leaves, pulled weeds and picked bugs off plants in gardens and did all manner of odd jobs. A week’s worth of work, or several days of looking for bottles might net us the nickel needed for a Kayo. All the sweeter for the effort. 

In retrospect, while childhood seems to last several lifetimes to a child, it is but a fleeting moment in retrospect … but it can all be brought back more than 60 years later by a little green glass bottle.  

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Celebrating Dia de Meurtos (Day of the Dead)

George Eliot said; Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. 

Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration of pre-Hispanic origins which honours loved ones who have passed  away. It is held on the 1st and 2nd of  November. It is celebrated in Mexico and Central America, as well as in communities around the world where there are populations of people with Indigenous Mexican, Mexican and Central American heritage.

The origins of Dia de Meurtos go back 3,000 years to the Mexica, Maya, Purépecha  and Totonaca Indians, who prior to the arrival of the Spaniards memorialized their ancestors during the month of August with candlelight processions, flowers, incense, puppets and statues of gods, heroes, mythological figures and painted skulls which told the stories of death and rebirth.

After the colonization of the Americas, when the church outlawed many indigenous practices, these Native rituals and celebrations were folded into the Catholic holidays of All Hallows Eve on October 31st, All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on the 2nd, with Christian saints replacing the Native figures.

Families still remember and honour their departed loved ones, their “Meurtos”, by setting up an ofrenda (altar), at home, by making a trip to the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of their Meurtos, and going to church. Friends and family will gather for a meal and, stirred by the photos and mementos on the ofrenda, reminisce about beloved family members who have passed.

Our ofrenda is set up, with the four elements represented,  earth by the food, wind by the papel picado, water in the sherry glass and fire by the candles. Plus there is salt and painted skulls and skeletons that serve as reminders that death and rebirth are a great cycle.

Of course, no ofrenda is complete without flowers. The marigold is the basic must-have flower which forms the arch on every ofrenda. It may be augmented by any flower but it is well-known that the favourite flower of the Meurto is the marigold.  I have added spider mums, peonies and carnations. While copal is the traditional incense I couldn't lay hands on any so I burned pine incense because most of my Meurtos came from areas where the pine is the dominant tree.  A pine log fire was the very scent of home.

The ofrenda honours those loved ones who have passed, so we have photos of family members on the shelves; my parents Charlie and Mattie, Tony’s parents George and Kinette, my paternal grand-parents, Josie and Fred. There’s my maternal grandfather Henry and Tony’s maternal grandmother Marie Theresa. Then there’s a photo of my grandfather Fred’s parents William and Susan Ann, and grandmother’s Josie’s mother, Kizziar. My brothers Hall and Harrell and sister Ruby are also there, and second parents Midge and Barney. Barney was one of my high school teachers, and they became like a second family to me.

Nov 1st is called "Dia los Angelitos" (Day of Little Angels) and the Spirits of the children who have passed are said to visit their families, so on Nov 1st ofrendas are decorated with toys and sweets, for the children in the family who have passed. We have no photos of Isabel, the baby girl we lost in 1971. I found an angel card which I’m letting represent her. I added some small toys, a teddy bear, Babar and Celeste, a doll and cradle (miniatures made by much-loved friends years ago) and of course candy and colourful cupcakes. To her left are Ixchel, Mayan Goddess of women, and her Rabbit companion.

On Nov 2nd the Spirits of the infants return to Heaven and the adults' Spirits come to visit.  On the 2nd items which belonged to the Meurtos are placed on the ofrenda, to make the Meurtos happy to see familiar items.

We have placed a smooth green and grey egg carved from agate, the size of a robin’s egg, which belonged to Tony’s father George on the ofrenda as his memento. George brought it back from Ecuador in the 1930’s. He was a geologist, and he loved shells and stones.

I never saw Tony’s mother without the small golden hoop earrings that are clipped to her photo. She took them off and gave them to me before going into the surgery she did not survive in February 1990. There’s also a tiny pair of wooden Dutch clogs, carved in 1901, which belonged to her. They are empty in the photo above (Angelito Day) but on the 2nd I placed a cigarette in each clog, one for George and one for my Dad.

Also on the ofrenda are some of our Meurtos’ favourite foods. Grandma Josie adored chocolate, as did Kinette, so there is chocolate for them. Dad's favourite candy was lemon drops. I couldn't find any so I bought the closest thing, which were citrus jellybeans. Traditionally cooked red (pinto) beans, cornbread, cheese enchiladas, rice and tacos were all favourite foods of my Meurtos, so a plate of these go on the ofrenda, along with fruit, cupcakes and a cinnamon bun (for my mother), and some fancy cheeses for George and Kinette.

A beer and a Coca-Cola, in the small old-style bottle, complete the meal. While the Meurtos can’t eat, drink or smoke, their Spirits are said to enjoy the “essence” of the food and drink on the ofrenda, and if they were smokers, one is expected to put out a cigarette for them - after all they no longer have to worry about smoker’s cough, do they?

My mother’s watch is her memento. She was a tiny person, and the wristband of the watch is so small it appears to be for a child, and a small child at that! I also have one of her aprons in the kitchen, so if her spirit wanders into the kitchen she'll see it there.

Tucked onto the edge of Tony’s grandmother’s picture frame is a teeny gold Crusader’s Cross with “Jerusal__” on it. The the last letter(s) are worn off. This little medal was one of the gifts her brother Albert brought back for her when he went to Jerusalem in 1901. She wore this tiny medal and a an equally tiny crucifix on a fine gold chain around her neck. Her brother died in 1929, so I’m guessing she passed this tiny Crusader cross through her thumb and finger as she prayed for him for 30+ years after his death.

My Dad's memento is a plastic coin case which holds a 1979 John Kennedy 50 cent piece. How many times have I seen him fish that coin purse from his pocket and dig change from it? It says, “Forget Not All His Benefits”. Of course it’s a Bible reference, but I remember the benefits of being raised by such an honourable and decent man.

The skeleton bridal couple represent my mother's grandparents William and Angeline, who died age 21 and 20, leaving my grandmother Molly orphaned at age two.  I don’t have a photo of my mother’s mother Molly, but I put her tin box which originally held dusting powder on the ofrenda. It was a Christmas gift from my Granddad Henry 100 years years ago. Mother used it as a button box all the years I was growing up. You can see it just beyond the vase of pink peonies.

It is in the preparation that we call our loved ones back, buying the ingredients for the meal, seeking out the chocolates, cheeses and beer they liked, going through the family albums and pulling out photos, bringing out keepsakes freighted with memories. Buying flowers, bringing out dishes, candles and the decorative skulls and figures, and at last combining all of it on, or into, the ofrenda. It is an ancient ritual, one that ties us to hundreds of generations of our ancestors. We eat traditional foods, and we remember our Meurtos, and hope they linger to hear our laughter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I Should Say Something, Right?

I should say something, right? The question is, “What”? 

A weather report? We had no summer to speak of, only a single weekend without rain. We had a monsoon season, which is good in a way because I’m sure it replenished the ground water supply after a long drought. But the farmers can’t catch a break because we had a very dry, cold spring, then the heavens opened and it didn’t quit raining from late May until freeze-up, when it started snowing, before the crops had time to ripen. Farming in Alberta is a vocation only for a gambler. 

A KIVA report? Our 80th KIVA loan went to Anna and Mary, who form the Gitangu Urumwe Women’s Group in Nakuru West, Kenya.  The lady with the beautiful smile, who is raising her hand in the photo, is Anna. Anna is 51 years old, married, and a mother of seven children. She joined KIVA partner group, Hand in Hand Eastern Africa in August 2014. 

Anna is a farmer, raising maize, potatoes and poultry. Having gone through enterprise training provided by Hand in Hand Eastern Africa, she has been able to commercialize her farming activities. She applied for a KIVA loan to purchase nutritious poultry feed and mineral supplements to maintain a healthy and productive flock. She hopes to obtain a higher income from the sale of eggs and meat in the local market. This will enable her to support her childrens’ education and provide for other family needs.

Road TRIP! Because I haven’t been to Golden in many years, Ian and I took a weekend road trip in September, just so I could reacquaint myself with the place. It was a beautiful drive, on this side of the mountains the trees were at their height for fall colour. Of course I walked off and left my camera sitting on my desk. Once we crossed over into BC and onto the western slopes of the Rockies it was still summer, and everything was still green. 

Golden is a beautiful small town, situated at the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers. It’s in the Columbia Valley, with the Rockies to the East and the Purcells to the West.  “Downtown”, such as it is, is mostly small shops and restaurants, and is concentrated within a few blocks.  Up on the highway there’s a big box “home supply and lumber” type store, and fast food places, but no other big box stores. 

We spent the time we were there mostly cruising the streets, looking at the neighbourhoods and at the houses listed for sale that we might be interested in. I’d really like to be in a rural area where I can have a big garden, loads of flowers, fruit trees, chickens, a dog and not have city lights drowning out the stars. And I don’t want to smell neighbour’s smoke - especially their marijuana smoke! Canada is about to legalize marijuana. I have nothing against pot, as long as I don’t have to smell it, which I have to do almost daily here. I am allergic to it and it makes me sick. 

Ian really wants to be in town and within walking distance to downtown. He’s very practical. Me, not so much. We’ll see. There has to be something for sale when we are ready to move, or we will have to build. That’s a long process. 

A report on family activities? Also in early September cousins Bob and Pam, from Florida, made a stop in Calgary for lunch and a visit. Bob and I share a 3rd great-grandfather, one Levin Clark born in 1750 of Sussex County, Delaware. Levin, referred to a “Patriot Levin” to distinguish him from the son and generations of grandsons who share his name, served in the Revolutionary War as one of General Daniel Morgan’s Sharpshooters, a small regiment handpicked by Morgan for their marksmanship. He spent the winter of 1776 at Valley Forge with George Washington’s Troupe’s, some of it sick, and in the hospital. After the War he went back home to Delaware to farm and lived to the age of 84.  

Ian and I met Bob and Pam at one of our favourite lunch spots and we spent a couple of hours swapping stories and comparing notes. Being so far from the big family I grew up with is very hard. And though Bob and I had never met before we have corresponded for 35 years, so it was instant recognition. 

Movie Review: Ian and I went to the movies! Amazing! I wanted to see ‘Kubo and The Two Strings’,  which did not disappoint. I feel it’s a movie which will only improve with repeated viewings. It has a lot of Ninja/Samurai-type action for those who like that sort of thing (not me particularly) and some excellent philosophy, while the sheer beauty of the sets and animation kept me attentive through the slow-paced unwinding of the plot. Definitely one to watch again and again. I will be snapping this one up as soon as it is marketed as a DVD.  

Okay, a Buddhist joke just popped into my head. One winter evening the Abbot of a famous temple dressed himself in rags, presented himself at the Emperor’s table, bowed humbly and asked if he might be fed dinner.  The Emperor looked down his nose at the old man and said, “You scallywag! Who do you think you are? Off with you before I have the guards drag you away and cut off your head!”  The Abbot shuffled away hurriedly and disappeared into the darkness.   

The next evening the Abbot dressed himself in his Priestly garments and again presented himself at the Emperor’s table, and again asked if he might have dinner. “By all means your Excellency!” the Emperor replied, motioning him to come closer. “Come sit beside me at the head table!”  

The Abbot, came to the place the Emperor indicated, then proceeded to undress, folding his splendid robes carefully on the chair in front of him as he removed them.

“What, what are you doing?” the Emperor cried in alarm. 

“Oh, I was here in rags yesterday, and you refused to feed me. Today I came in the robes of my office and you are delighted to feed me. So the meal is not for me. It is for the robes.” And he walked from the palace naked.  

I’ll end with coffee. My very good friends A and L in France sent us six one pound packets of very special organic coffees. You cannot imagine the wonderful perfume emanating from these packets, even though they are vacuum packed in aluminum paper.  Organic Medium Roast, Organic Dark Roast, Organic Columbian, Swiss Water DeCaffinated, Organic Ethiopian Limu and Sumatran Takengon. As the Sumatran Takengon is L’s favourite that’s where I’ll start. Oh My Goodness.  Thank you seems so inadequate. Wouldn’t you agree? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

KIVA Loan 77

KIVA loan # 77 goes to Vivian, a 21-year-old woman who is always full of smiles. She has had to overcome a lot of adversity in her life. However, she has always had the strength to overcome it and is moving forward with her two children.

Vivian is very hardworking and a go-getter. She hails from Kiptere, a remote village in the Kericho area of Kenya, a country where the average annual income is $1,800. Her primary sources of income are vegetable crops and animal farming. She also earns some income through a personal business. Vivian is content with the farming way of life.

Vivian is a very enterprising woman, and although she never had any formal education or formal employment, she has always worked hard on her farm and she has always assured her children and family have had a decent meal.

The Kiptere Kericho area has favourable conditions for farming, and that is why Vivian sought a loan from KIVA to buy seeds and start farming as a business. With good roads, a good climate, and a good transportation network, she is sure that she will be able to be a successful farmer.

We are glad to be able to help Vivian so that she can succeed as a farmer! It’s a great feeling. Try it. Loaning $25.00 to a business person in the Third World through KIVA will give you a glow that’s hard to get any other way.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

When There's Not There Anymore...

We’re house shopping, planning on a return to BC, the Province to the west of us, in the New Year. Our settled destination is at the head of the Columbia Valley, a small town in the mountains called Golden. I’d rather be farther south, but Golden is a convenient three hour drive from Calgary on Canada’s only major east-west highway, so Golden it is. 

I make a daily visit to the real-estate listing site to see if any new listings have shown up, as the pickings are slim in our price range. Today for some reason the site went berserk and interpreted my “Golden” request loosely, and showed me offerings within 100 miles or so. Believe me, it didn’t expand the list all that much. This country is pretty thinly populated. 

But one of the first houses on the list caught my eye because it looked very familiar. The address was 120 km (75 miles) down the Valley in Invermere, a village we lived in some 40 years ago. But, looking on Google Street View, the house was not at the address listed.  Favourite realtor's trick, wrong address. If you want to see the house you have to come to the office. 

It’s an old house, built in the 40’s, and it’s on a five acre property surrounded by lush greenery. The inside is wrecked. The walls are vandalized, furniture is overturned, looks as if it’s been used as a squat. Still, looking at the pictures I have a sense of recognition, even of the outbuildings, the little log cabin and chicken coop on the property, and I keep coming back and looking at that darn house. 

The price is ridiculously low, this much property should be five or six times the asking price. It must be going for back taxes. And while the house is in rough cosmetic shape, and will have to be completely rebuilt from the outside walls, there is no apparent water damage, and in the basement the subfloor is composed of huge peeled pine logs 16” in diameter, with the sawn-off branches still butting an inch or two from the timber. 

I am puzzled. Golden is at the Northern, wet, end of the Columbia Valley. The farther south you go down the Valley the drier it becomes. By the time you reach Invermere, where the agent says this house is located, you have reached high desert. The pines are widely spaced and grass ekes out a starvation existence on gravel moraines dumped there by glaciers. This house is surrounded by thick, fat pines and lush undergrowth. And then I look at the background of the photo the mountain looming behind. 

And I know where it is.  In the early-mid 1970s we lived a few miles from the tiny not-even-wide-spot-in-the-road hamlet called Spillamacheen, BC on an 18 acre farmstead which overlooked the Columbia River and the Purcell Mountains. If Heaven was ever dropped on earth it was here for me. 

Every few days I’d get in our van and drive over to Spillamacheen to pick up the mail. The postmistress was Francis Dunn, a middle-aged single lady who lived with her widowed mother in the house her father had built when Francis was a girl.  The post office was a square building, maybe 16 feet on a side, with a peaked roof. Down the road was the General Store and Gas Station, which comprised the “business district”. Just beyond the Gas Station was Mary Yadernuk’s gate, and her expansive meadow dotted with grazing sheep. Aside from a half dozen houses grouped loosely around the post office and gas station there was nothing more to Spilly. 

But the house. I was talking about the house, because it’s Francis Dunn’s house. Or was. The post office closed many years ago. I don’t know if Francis went elsewhere, or if she stayed on. She and her mother had a huge vegetable garden, and they raised wonderful flowers. I was there many times because we became friends. They were lovely ladies. 

It’s too far from Golden for us to buy. Right now I’m in the third day of “recovery” after a full afternoon out, as we had a medical appointment across town, went out for a late lunch, and then Ian took me grocery shopping.  Having to make 120 km trip to go grocery shopping every week would kill me. Yet I would love to go back there, to the view, to the place. But then again, it's just a view. I might just be going back to a terrible sense of loss, since everyone who was dear to me there, especially Mary, is now gone.  

There's not "there" any more.  

Friday, April 01, 2016

How was I supposed to know you were mad?

I see the angry, aggressive crowds at the Trump rallies and am reminded again and again of the Anaïs Nin quote: "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are." 

It's easy for Liberals like me to become  incensed at Trump supporters who show up at rallies primed for a fight, but we do well to remember that each of them has a reason, a reason that makes sense to them, to be angry and hostile. You might say they are each like a bear with a broken tooth. Though the pain of the tooth is totally invisible to me, it is nonetheless provoking behaviour which, for the most part, is uncharacteristic in the bear as a rule. 

Journalist David Brooks said something interesting on Charlie Rose a couple of nights ago. Here's a man who's a principle political columnist for the NY Times. He's on PBS Evening News as a political commentator. He's thoughtful and intelligent and he ought to be aware of what's going on, and yet the rage that has fueled Trump's rise caught him completely by surprise. He freely admitted he didn't see it coming, he didn't realize people were angry or were even discontented. 

But how has it escaped Brooks, or any of them, that the American working class has paid the price while 100% of the economic growth in the USA in the last 20 years has gone into the pockets of the wealthiest families in the country? The Guardian reported that the top 1% in the USA are now worth as much as the bottom 90% put together.  

Since the 1980s money has been steadily moving in an upward direction, with what were once well-paying jobs moving off-shore to unregulated jurisdictions, where work can be performed by slave and prison labour if need be, to maintain a large profit margin. 

Jobs that pay minimum wages don’t keep a family fed, clothed and housed adequately, even with both partners in a marriage working two or even three of them, and that equals a lot of anger. Many people have lost everything they have worked for all their lives; homes, retirement savings, college dreams for the kids. They are deep in debt and they have no financial security. They fear for their future, and this fear and anxiety has been honed by the Republican Party to turn against always reliable targets of racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants, and newer ones such as "Constitutional Freedoms", fear of losing one's guns, and "religious freedoms" like the right to pray in school, right to impose fundamental Christian beliefs on school curriculums and ban the teaching of subjects which "disagree" with a Biblical view.  This strategy has backfired in a horrific way and the Republicans are now in a panic, trying to find a way to pull the nominational rug out from under Trump. They raised the dragon and let it out of its cage, and now find it does not obey their command. 

No wonder people are ready to listen to a man who expresses their anger openly, directs it at the targets they didn’t like in the first place and have been told to blame their troubles on for the last 30 years. Now Trump says HE will fix things, HE will make America the way it used to be, back when it worked for them. He bullies dissenters openly, encourages violence, makes his audiences feel powerful and in control. Of course he’s full of shit. He hasn't a clue what politics are about, his "policies" change with the wind, and he’s completely and entirely amoral, but no more so than politicians who stand up and politely promise to fix things but are as superficial and slick as a spray of PAM on a non-stick skillet.   

But we are playing a very dangerous game with our unbridled capitalism. Franklin Delano Roosevelt stepped in and pulled the USA from the brink of democratic collapse when this kind of inequality happened during the Great Depression. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century,   French economist Thomas Piketty argues that "extremely high levels" of wealth inequality are "incompatible with the meritocratic values and principles of social justice fundamental to modern democratic societies" and that "the risk of a drift towards oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism about where the United States is headed. 

But back to David Brooks; even now, when he says he’s now aware of the anger at the political system and politicians in general he still believes the Republican Congress was willing to work with President Obama, but President Obama made no effort at all to work with Republicans.

He also thinks there are lots of good jobs out there if you’re willing to look, and there's no lack of opportunity for a poor kid (of any colour or class) to move into the upper middle class if they're willing to work hard. As far as he's concerned the determining factor in a person's success is how much their mother loves them. 


He actually said there was a study which showed that a man’s success, and how far he rose, promotions, business, military rank, etc. depended not on his education, class, or financial advantage but on how much love his mother poured into him. Also high achievers tended to be people who lost a parent by age 12 and had to pull up their bootstraps and do for themselves.  

Of course this plays into his wheelhouse and supports his philosophy that spending money on social programs is useless, because what the country really needs is more loving mothers. Bless his heart. I don't know if he's drinking too much NyQuil before he comes to work in the morning, or if someone's dosing him with horse tranquilizers, surely the man couldn't be that naive and hold down his job. I mean come on, even Ben Carson is quicker on his feet than that. 

He's the most willingly deluded thing that ever wrote a column inch. One expects the fairies at the bottom of the garden to flutter up and start sprinkling sparkly bits all around him. Love cures everything and money (from the government to the citizen) does no good at all. The only place money does a power of good is in the pockets of the 1% and the 90% can go fish or starve, whichever comes first. 

David, you are gorgeous and I could eat you and your rose-tinted glasses with a silver spoon. Let me pass long some advice from a very wise old man. Trump may not get elected this time but if someone doesn't start paying attention to a lot of hurting people soon Trump will be the least of your worries.

“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering including personal contact and visits, images, sounds. By such means, ...awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world. If we get in touch with the suffering of the world, and are moved by that suffering, we may come forward to help the people who are suffering.” 

― Thích Nhất Hạnh 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Zen of An Empty Mind

The ability to achieve a mediative state has long been second nature. Like dropping a stone into a deep, quiet well. No need to pay attention to the breath, no chant, no posture but the chair. Awake and aware, but uninvolved in the thousand thoughts that usually crowd the moment.  

Maybe we make it too complicated. There’s no need for all the bells and chants and incense and such, though most of us like the comfort of ritual. But we need to be able to drop into a meditative state without the prompts if needed.   

Only One Head!
I had a funny meditative experience once. Before beginning a new medication which had a potential for producing seizures in those who are prone to such, I had to have an EEG to make sure I didn’t have undetected seizures. 

My appointment was for 7:45 am, an unholy time of day for someone who hates getting up early. Part way through the test the technician said, “I’m going to turn the lights off for 20 minutes. You can rest, but don’t go to sleep.” So I decided to meditate for those 20 minutes. 

When the results came back I had no propensity for seizures but the neurologist reading the EEG noted that I had increased levels of alpha and theta wave activity, and suggested my doctor ask me if I had a problem with alcohol. 

I told my doctor I’d been meditating during the EEG but she looked at me as if I’d just grown a second head. I don’t drink (at all) but I don’t think she ever believed I wasn’t a dedicated booze hound after that. She checked my liver enzymes each time she did blood work, and would say things like, "I can tell if you've been drinking by your liver enzymes." 

Of course meditation creates the same increase in alpha and theta wave activity in the brain as alcohol, but while the neurologist who read my EEG may have come across a drinker or two early in the day, she’d probably never come across a practiced Buddhist meditator at 8:00 am before.