Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Helping hands?


 A few days ago, I tried to sweat out this cold that seems to be creeping into my sinuses and lungs. In the sauna, I have a pretty standard routine:
1. Read until I get too sweaty.
2. Remove my magazine or book and glasses from the sauna.
3. Steam it up by putting eucalyptus water on the hot rocks.
4. Breathe in the steam as much as I can stand.
5. Lay supine on the top shelf.
6. Stretch. 
7. Just lay there.
8. Open up the vent.
9. Get out.
10. I wish there was a tenth step. It would look better. Shower?

In the sauna I was reading an article on the therapeutic use of psychedelics in Outside Magazine. Those of you who know me, know that I have never used anything other than alcohol, caffeine or exercise induce any mind-alterating state. But, the concept of psychedelics for depression and end-of-life experience is something that I find interesting and I hope it gets studied more.

The author of the magazine article was receiving instructions in how to anticipate the experience he was going to embark upon:

“Keep looking at your hands,” she said. “When it looks like they’re somebody else’s hands, they're working.” 

At this point, the dripping started and I knew it was time to take the magazine and my reading glasses out of the sauna and proceed with Step 3.

As I lay baking in the 180 degree heat, I held my hand up. It was my hand. No matter how close my cedar sweat lodge would take me to another dimension, there would be no denying my hands. Which is good, I think. Coal miner hands. That’s what I have. troglodyte hands. I bet my ancestors in the Welsh coal mines were prized - big ass shovel hands. Good for swimming too I suppose. 

Then I started thinking about what my hands have been up to. Oh, the adventures they have had over the years! On a balance sheet, were they hands for good? Probably a draw. As I lay on the bench - a shelf for sweating - I thought about all the jobs I have had - all pretty hand-centric. Some were involved in doing good things for people and some were involved in doing bad things to people. All jobs were “honorable professions.” They put food on the table for my family and provided me with a sense of self worth. But really, was this an intrinsically good thing? I mean, working for a living is certainly a good thing, but it’s also an expected thing, a responsible thing, a normal thing. Although the idea of “normal” is certainly one that fluctuates from generation to generation.

As usual, my sweaty thoughts turned to politics. How many of you remember when Republican Senator Rob Portman reversed his stand on gay marriage after his son came out? I guess that is a certain kind of courage. I would suspect that even his most Conservative constituents “forgave” him for this transgression because, after all, I mean his son… What’s a loving parent to do? 

Likewise, our own congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rogers became a real advocate for kids with disabilities and voted against her own party for funding when, you guessed it, her child was born with Down’s Syndrome. I don’t think she would have that kind of empathy had she not been directly affected by her relationship with her newborn child. Or maybe she has empathy but knows her base would only allow an "understandable" empathy.

Which brings me to the questions - Is it really empathy when you act on behalf of those you love? Does it really require any courage to take a stand for others that are the same as you? Could I really say that, because I love my family,and I put my hands to work that this is a “good” thing other than a necessary, required, expected thing to do what you have to do for the ones you love? I mean, it certainly is not a bad thing, but it’s not heroic. It’s just digging coal. 

But, anymore it would look like heroism, just like McMorris-Rodgers or Rob Portman being empathetic to their own family members. To be sure there is a courage involved to stand up to your core constituents, your supporters, knowing that they don’t have much empathy for anyone but their immediate family and friends. And most of them “get” that others have that too. They just might not understand why anyone else has empathy for others who they don’t even know.

Like I mentioned, “normal” is something that varies from generation to generation. All the northern abolitionists who struggled hard to free black people in the south, when they didn’t even personally know any African-Americans, might be considered abnormal today. Their efforts would be certainly heroic by any standard. Although, in my opinion, this empathy would be considered more abnormal by Conservatives than Liberals. And I guess that’s why I like associating more with Liberal causes than Conservative. 

Recently in the paper, there was an article about a friend of mine's daughter. After the election, she was told by her “friends” at school that she should be shipped back to Mexico now that Trump will take office. Seems like this happened a lot around Spokane. Kids gleefully telling classmates that President Trump was going to ship them back to Africa, Mexico, maybe even CHYYYYNAH. No doubt this was a reflection of what they heard from home. A household, perhaps, with no empathy except for themselves. Is that empathy? 

I grew up in a very diverse place. My best friend was a black kid. His parents took a part in raising me too. Our households were very different. I would say they were better educated than my parents and their parenting style was a little more conventional. Jimmy’s folks would take me on vacation with them. My dad would take me and Jimmy fishing just about every weekend. My dad was a believer in the upcoming race wars, that “The Blacks” wanted to destroy “The Whites.” But he would always add, “Not Jimmy’s family. They’re good people.” 

My Dad would be celebrating the Trump victory today, especially after eight years of listening to his AM radio mullahs instructing him on how to hate Barrack Obama. White kids were in the minority in my school district. Lots of Chicano and Chicana classmates. But, there was never any child who would have said or felt the things that were said to my friend’s daughter. It would have been inconceivable. Not that kids back then weren’t cruel. Probably more so than today. Bullying was an expected thing and I was a frequent recipient. Thank you very much. But, to bring race, nationality, or religion into the bullying was unheard of. Not today. This is the new normal and it’s out in the open. 

I look at my hands and realize I haven’t done enough. That’s going to change. Empathy means something when you take a stand for people you don’t know, people who are different than you. Maybe the only thing you have in common with another is that they are a fellow resident of this planet, this dimension. Well, that’s good enough. 

These were all the ravings of my hyperthermic mind that morning. Who needs psychedelics? 

Monday, January 09, 2017

Fear is the mind-killer...

 I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.

- Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear 

Last shift when I got off work, I did my usual wintertime run home. In the deep snow, coming up the hill, after being up all night, I felt really beat. This unpacked snow makes the footing much like running on loose sand at the beach. Throw in some vertical climb, and it can be pretty exhausting.

Sarah had just finished her run when I arrived. She had fired up the sauna earlier, so the timing was right and we were able to take one of those rare saunas together. Maybe it's because I get really soaked with sweat in the sauna and it grosses her out, or maybe she worries that she has not had a CPR refresher class in a while. For whatever reason, usually, we each sauna alone.

We had a great conversation in the 180 degree heat and, as usual, wound up talking politics. Sarah said some things that really made sense to me, some things I hadn’t considered before and I like it!

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I get frustrated that no matter how many facts and figures I show, no matter how many graphs or history lessons get proffered, there is really no one I have spoken with who has had their mind changed by my spouting off. I point to where the Dow Jones was when Bush left and Obama took the helm and where it is now. Likewise - unemployment, per capita income, abortions, wars, terrorist attacks, blah, blah, blah. I show you which party is consistently better for the economy, which party restored value in your home, etc. It just doesn’t matter. My voice is a lone one to you. Maybe the only one you are hearing, if you are a Conservative friend, that differs from your other friends and certainly from what you hear on the radio and in the corporate news media. To try to disprove what you feel is an impossible task and it’s the masochist in me that keeps thinking "maybe today…" As you have read in my last post, I am done with that. I repeated this to Sarah, as the steam hissed away and we baked.

Sarah’s observation in a nutshell (and I hope my memory does not do her a disservice) is that if emotions like fear are controlling someone’s life then there is no amount of logic or rational fact-delivering that will overcome that fear to enable someone to see things differently. Wow. She said that, in her opinion, the only way to break through that fear is to be a source of confident optimism and joy. Double wow. Sarah followed up with the thought that being kind to someone is not the same as being nice to someone. To be kind, is harder because you are, ultimately, caring about the well being of another. To be nice is a superficial response - usually not a bad one. Sometimes, trying to spread truth, joy and optimism will not be a “nice” undertaking but it should be a "kind" pursuit. I liked that a lot and will be trying to do this in 2017.

I don’t think that any one person will be able to overcome the state in which we find some of our friends and neighbors. How many of you have found that, even in their candidate’s unprecedented winning of the presidency, these friends are still angry and scared people? I know I sure have seen it. Maybe this is all they only know how to feel regarding politics any more. 

It is hard to understand some of that when many of these folks have, because of government work, retired very early in their lives. Many of them have great careers because of government training them in skills - creating a great living for their families. Yet, there is much fear and anger toward the same social benevolence government provided them when offered to others. I think this may come from a mindset of the economics of scarcity versus the economics of plenty. It doesn’t matter the cause. Nothing is going to get them to want to build upon the gift of government and extend it to others, just as was done for them, until they can be unafraid and not angry. There are plenty of voices that make money and sell things to keep them angry and afraid.

So, why be a beacon of truth, kindness, joy and confident optimism if it doesn’t have any immediate effects on changing hearts and minds? These are the reasons for me:

1. I know I want to "win." It’s how I am built. I have mostly reined that in. I am selectively competitive in my life, but around issues of political thought, I now realize I am always competitive. What kind of effect does this have on the person I want to convince to see things my way? I would suspect it entrenches them. I would suspect they are as competitive as me and want "the win" too. I hereby surrender. Or better yet, I leave this game to others.

2. This is a collective approach. It will take hundreds of daily human interactions of kind, truthful, optimistic people to counter what one radio talk show will tell you in an afternoon. Why? He is an authority and you are entertained. Maybe in some kind of horror movie way, but still entertained. And if I share this mission with millions of others, it sure takes the load off me - making me a better person. Hopefully, it makes me a less arrogant person. And enjoyment of being with others (especially ones different than me) is something I have learned to really like. I've had to overcome a lot of early childhood programming, but I now love being a part of the parade, arm-in-arm with fellow travelers. It is becoming ever more important to me.

3. This is an approach for the long haul. I don’t know if you have ever been to the FDR Memorial in Washington D.C. It is, for me, as moving as the Vietnam War Memorial. The stuff that is inscribed in stone - quotes from Roosevelt in the depths of The Great Depression are amazing. Our country has moved so far to the right, that the words seem foreign. And even though Roosevelt was a centrist in his time, you realize FDR would not be able to be elected as dog catcher today in many parts of our country. But, the words are still true, and as are as timeless as the stone they are blasted into. It took us a long time to  turn our backs to these truths. It will take a long time to, once again, embrace them fully. But we will.

4. It’s all about me! Is this narcissistic? Gee, I hope so. Being a person who is confidently optimistic, a person who kindly promotes truth, is a good person to be. Having less stress and anger is a good thing mentally and physically. Why not model what you think is a good way to live just by living that way? Prove the truth in it to yourself and to others.

It’s not going to be easy. You can talk all you want about Russian hackers, the fake news outlets, etc., but If you're looking for a cartoon villain, why not mainstream media? They gave away billions of dollars of free airtime to Donald Trump. Why? It's called "investing," and it made them even more billions of dollars. They admit it. They know exactly how we are built and how to profit off of our fear and anger. Everyone will want to hear the next crazy Trump story. It's one of the nuttiest things that has happened in my lifetime. It’s entertainment. Eyeballs stay glued to their channels and advertising revenue goes through the roof. This will continue during the Trump presidency. They make money by making you angry and fearful.

Today, it is no longer about the truth, so weighing in on the media’s latest Trump story will have little effect on your friends’ opinions and beliefs. Joyful optimism and fearlessness will save the day! 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Cool runnings

Just got in from a sub-zero run around the neighborhood. I am still running to and from work - about 3.5 miles each way, but have not been out in the really cold for just a “fun” run lately. So, I put on almost all the running clothes I own and headed out early this morning.

Do you know anyone who drives a garbage truck? I do. The two guys I know are among the most intelligent and caring folks I have ever met. I am glad they don’t have to get out of their trucks too much now that there is the mechanical arm device.

All the folks on Manito Blvd had their cans in an easy-to-reach spot for the arm.

Even though it’s mechanical, I don’t think it’s magical. How do some people think it's going to reach 10 feet over a snow berm? And when you put a parked car in the mix…

I suspect that our garbage collector has to park their truck, get out and move the ill-placed cans to a more accessible location. But, you know what, hopefully, you get to meet the worker when they are doing this. They are all a nice bunch and will, more than likely, cheerfully overcome any obstacles you have inadvertently placed in front of them.

When you work for a municipality, when you have a strong union that provides a living wage for your family, you care about the people you serve. They are your neighbors, friends and family. In turn, the people you serve care about you.

On a cold winter run, early this morning, I felt pretty warm.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

So long 2016!

What a year it has been. I am dismayed by the election results and worry a lot about 2017, from an economic, world peace, patriotic, personal safety, human dignity and civil rights perspective. However, 2016 was also a very good year for me - professionally and personally. There has been some adversity but a lot of growth. Sarah and I expanded our grandparent roles with twins - Ray and Max to add to our Kirk and Sarah's wonderful Jack. Any tarnish 2016 has to it gets erased by the addition of these two amazing babies.

I have come to a realization of sorts, and I hope it makes me a better person. I realize in a lot I have done, in 2016, I really thought that I could make a big difference, especially in the political arena. I thought that presenting facts, charts, statistics, etc. to others might get them to abandon easily refutable claims and nonsensical beliefs. Well, I now look like the silly one. We are living in an age where facts no longer work, in an age where minds are not changed with facts, even when those facts look you right in the face every day. I have come to realize that I have been grandiose in my thinking and greatly mistaken. And I am sorry.

We are a different people than we used to be. I entered the USAF at age 24, a die-hard Republican, Ronald Reagan supporter - and thanks to countless conversations with my peers, and a ton of reading, I left at age 32 at the opposite end of the spectrum. I don't think this happens too much anymore, and if the Internet were around back in 1989, I'm not sure it would have happened to me. I think people in the United States have certainly become more progressive overall, but due to gerrymandering, voter suppression, Citizens United and the electoral college which makes some people's votes count more than others, democracy is dead in the USA. This is a national phenomenon and some states like North Carolina are taking it even further. I am lucky to live in Washington where we still have some democracy left at the state level and in our municipality. But I have small hope that this will forever be the case.

With the combination of anything-you-want-to-believe is truth and the death of a rational majority having a say, I have come to realize that the only effect I really have are around the people in my life, and in my community. That is probably enough.

I am so lucky to have the job that I do. I get to see the results of what a loving community does for each other. To be a kind person, to be an able person, a person who can help someone on a really bad day makes me really happy. To get paid well to do this is a bonus, and to do it in a big shiny red truck with lights and sirens makes me smile a lot. My crew and I get to show what government does, who government is. We're just your friends and neighbors helping you and helping you help others. That is amazingly cool.

I still plan on speaking the truth, and I think in 2017, there may be some surprising things to say. But one thing, that I think I need to do when speaking truth, is to double down on kindness. In 2017, I plan on not wasting time and hurting others by challenging someone who believes crazy things, makes crazy decisions that harm me, harms them and harms our country. It does no good. If they can't even see it when they repeatedly bring it down upon themselves, my telling them sure isn't going to do it. It just makes them angry. It makes me frustrated. Thanks to a lack of democracy in our nation, theirs will be the dominant voice in our country and I better just get used to it for a while. I will strive to help those who will be hurt by them, to stand in solidarity with them. I will work hard to bring democracy to the USA, to confront lies and injustice but not in the same manner I did in 2016.

Of course, all of this is easy for me to say. Next week, is there a chance I will be back on Facebook calling bullshit on some wacky "fake news"? Yeah, maybe. But I hope not. I realize I am a deeply flawed human being and banging my head against a wall doesn't make me or the wall any better.

Much peace in 2017. Live long and prosper!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Haiku Friday

OK. I have written a lot lately for this post, but I don't like any of it, so I didn't post any of it. What I did like was this morning's Haiku Friday, so I am posting this. Cheers!

Haiku Friday, December 16,  2016

Dead cell phone walking.
No place to recharge my mind.
Flippity bong bonk.- Joel                 

        I called the White House
           To complain about that Trump
                 The line was busy

        Headlights shine so bright,
  reflecting off snow and ice;
    each of us alone. --Stine

    Polska Kielbasa.
  What else could you want? Maybe
    some vegetables? --Stine

Challenging future
Often so overwhelming
Requires patient work - Bob

Repeating cycles
Our nation - wreck, recover
Addiction hides truth - Me

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

All politics are local and visible.

Kind of old news, Nazi rallies in favor of their national leader. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about last week’s Alt-right gathering where Trump was Seig-Heiled by his followers.

On the Tom Hartmann show, last week,  Thom was reading from a book written right after WWII -  They Thought They Were Free. The author, Milton Mayer, a Jewish American, went to Germany right after its surrender to get an idea of why some people just went along with the Nazis. The old adage of “At first they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist…Etc.” comes from this book I believe.

The gist of it is that, in local communities, the infiltration of the Nazi agenda was so gradual and nonthreatening, it was a surprise for most to wake up one day confronted with what they let happen. One of the interviewees said that all the old institutions had remained - church, the cinema, markets, but the soul of their town had changed and by the time they noticed this, it was too late to do anything about it.

When you look around Spokane, right now, it’s hard to remember a more prosperous time. Our local economy is doing well. Eight years ago, we were deep in recession and all of us homeowners had lost a lot of value in our homes and our retirement plans. Now things have reversed. It’s a head-scratcher to me why we want to go back to where we were eight years ago. But the minority in our country has spoken, so looking at Trump’s cabinet picks, we will do just that.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around national problems and solutions. But, looking at the economy of our local area, it is apparent that national politics have had a real effect on our local economy. Likewise too, the recent pro-Nazi, pro-KKK graffiti spray-painted on buildings, the accosting of local minorities by pro-Trump supporters certainly are a reflection of how national politics infect a local system almost seamlessly - thanks to the 24-7 news cycle and social media. Also, our responses to these crises remain local (PR events). No one can make the connection of these reprehensible actions to the beliefs they hold for our nation. I am reminded of my father’s worries/excitement about the upcoming race wars, and his disdain for African-Americans on a national level. My best friend was African-American and after my dad lectured me on the evils of "the Blacks," he would always exclude my friend’s family because they were unlike most Blacks and were “good people.” He could not make the connection.

Speaking of good people, I had a falling out of a sort with a relative by marriage of mine. He kept posting articles that were blatantly untrue about Hillary Clinton, stuff we now know were intentional disinformation pieces. I Snoped them and they were easily refuted. Yet, he persisted. And this, to me, was a curious thing. He has a job, like mine, which makes him a trusted member of our community. He also has a skill set, like mine, which is continually updated as we learn new things about medicine, fire behavior and other parts of our jobs. We work hard to know the truth. We easily change our minds and our practices to better serve, and we want to remain credible to our community. Yet, here he was willing to sacrifice his credibility for a national figure, Donald Trump, and this is what I find puzzling. You can dislike Hillary Clinton all you want, love Donald Trump all you want, but why would you discard your credibility by spreading things that were obviously false? Now if he was being satirical, I get that. But, he wasn’t.

I presented three hypotheses to him on why this might be. I went back this morning to copy and paste them here. But, he has sanitized his Facebook page of all things political. So, the great forgetting begins! Mine and his.

In a nutshell, I think folks are willing to sacrifice their credibility by perpetuating what they know are lies because: 1. They figure the stakes are so high for their team, they think it’s worth it. 2. It’s only a game, only a team, nobody takes politics seriously- they’re all crooked and there is nothing you can do anyway. 3. “I can find any ‘truth’ I want on the Internet and it’s just as  good as the real truth.” In any case, the underlying cause is not having enough energy or enough caring to pursue the truth because the truth might conflict with your worldview, the truth is not that important or there is no truth - only relativism. All these attitudes we would reject in our personal and professional lives. Also, these same  attitudes were prevalent in the build up of Nazi Germany, if one believes what the author of They Thought They Were Free has to say..

I really don’t remember if this is exactly what I said to him, but needless to say, I did not receive a reply!

So, if you participate as a cyber Brown Shirt by posting untruths to win one for some guy who is worshipped by NeoNazis and the Klan, someone who will now set up shop on the other side of the nation, I hope you take responsibility for your actions when they migrate here. Again, my hope is that you will remember what you did; that you will notice what effect your choice has made on your life, the ones you love and our nation; and that you will rethink your beliefs and the way you do business.

As I sit here in a prosperous Spokane, one that lay devastated eight years ago, when I think back to your support of George W. Bush (twice) and the build up to the Iraq War (both things that you now disavow), I have my doubts you will remember, that you will take responsibility and that you will change. It’s not just you, it’s the people we have become - incapable of self reflection, ignorant and arrogant. It will be our undoing. And you’ll have a front row seat for the unraveling - right here in the Lilac City.

Nazis worship Donald Trump
Thom Hartmann
They Thought They Were Free

Monday, November 21, 2016

Turkey Update!

“How are the turkeys doing?” I get that a lot from people who followed the great turkey invasion and our steps to quell it, last year. Well, that was last year and this is this year.

I went to harass one off the lawn last week and I just didn’t give a shit anymore. Which is funny because they have literally shit all over my roof and sidewalk a lot this fall. The inundation is an insurmountable problem for now, so I am taking a more live and let live approach. Candice from Fish and Game hasn’t contacted us this year to set another trap up. I think she is disheartened too.

In some ways, it’s a good metaphor for what is happening now in Spokane and all over the United States. We have been invaded by turkeys, and they are shitting all over! It’s not that we shouldn’t take a stand against all the racism, homophobia and trans hatred that the fascist/racist turkeys now feel safe to shit upon us. It’s just that, personally, I am going to be more involved in some soft-spoken (witness televangelist/politician Mike Pence) politics and discourse, hopefully stemming the feelings where a lot of this hatred comes from.

I am reading about political systems again, especially the work of MLK and Gandhi. I believe in nonviolent change. That changing people’s hearts through education and empathy always wins over change by a gun barrel. I am subscribing to political magazines, again. Sarah and I just bought Bernie’s book at Aunties - where we probably paid more than we would have on Amazon, but buying this book in our local bookstore means more to me than saving money right now. By the way, I still have one of my poetry books still on sale at Aunties - bottom shelf - hard to find.

Sarah and I are back to, at least part time, veganism. We were led back to the straight and narrow by two of our boys whom we had introduced vegetarianism and the ethos behind it when they were very small. Thanks guys.

I am listening to more Thom Hartmann. And reading one of his books. Obviously, I am writing more. I have also been busy dealing with, since this summer - a kind of mixed-bag thing which will all get sorted out.

I know to my Conservative friends this may seem like a lot of Liberal hand-wringing and a totally intellectual egghead response to the rising of The Right. Believe me, the stakes are higher than you know for me - from seeing the ones I love lose fundamental freedoms to the elimination of my labor union to the destruction of our state’s rights. All these concerns are very tangible and very expected. But, I stand by my earlier observation, that no matter what the election result, we are still on the correct long-term trajectory (if you are interested, I will send you my article). Now unfortunately, the truth is that Sarah and I are probably going to be on the downward blip during the rest of our lifetimes, and we will have to work hard to stop the downward momentum so others can start the climb up again.

There are more active steps coming from me, but right now, I am preparing and you should be too. For me, despite the rhetoric, despite the chilling appointments to his cabinet, I still hold out some hope in the Trump Administration. Why? Because I have to. And you never know.

When it goes south, when the real bad stuff starts happening, it will be something that I have trained for. I used to be there, years ago, fighting. I have gotten physically old and intellectually flabby. I am back in training. I didn’t think I would ever have to get back in the ring again. In a way, I am thankful for the rekindling of the flame.

My hope is that those of you who voted for this will own it, and that you will reflect upon your decision in the coming years. But, I am pretty sure that won’t happen. I can point to two terms of GWB and your amnesia regarding wanting the Iraq War in the first place. As someone who was jeered at and booed at during an anti- prewar rally, I know there are so many of you out there in Spokane. But in the meantime, I will have empathy for you, especially the poor government-assisted, white men who hate government whose order at Starbucks takes too long. Making nice to the literal turkeys of destruction is teaching me how to do just that.