A Presidential Stain

Just like in every other aspect of his privileged yet miserable life, Donald Trump can see only the surface. His “shithole” description of nations like Haiti or those in Africa is apt if you only see the poverty and political chaos. A thoughtful educated person would see beyond that surface to the culpability for all that of white Europeans.

African tribes lived fruitful happy lives in their native state, just as did the natives of the Americas. But their natural progress was interrupted by those from more developed cultures who took them as slaves and exploited the resources indigenous to their lands. Since emerging from the dark ages, European countries have sailed around the world trying to enforce their religious beliefs while at the same time seeking slaves and resources to enrich their nations.

That’s how Haiti became a predominantly black society. When Spanish explorers arrived in 1492, they found a widespread population of the Taino people, a Native American tribe. Disease and genocide pretty well eradicated the Taino by 1625 when Spain’s grip on the island loosened in the face of French, English, and Dutch incursions. France seized control of Haiti and by 1700, France had established plantations for tobacco and cotton and imported African slaves to work the fields. Within the next century, the agricultural focus turned to sugar cane.[1]

Intimidating slaves with unimaginable brutalities didn’t require many whites. Accounts of horrific tortures are preserved in Haitian histories. The island’s populations suffered not only the brutalities of enslavement but also the irregular devastation of earthquakes and tidal waves. The current status of Haiti resulted from the most recent earthquake eight years ago with “a death toll estimated by the Haitian government at over 300,000, and by non-Haitian sources from 50,000 to 220,000.” The quake destroyed the country’s capital city and in the intervening years, hundreds of thousands have died of starvation.

Clone this story of Haiti into a long list of other “shithole” countries referenced by our Moron-in-Chief, with a few tweaks and details thrown in. No one in Africa asked for Europeans to come into their midst to enslave their people and steal their natural resources. Just as Native American tribes had enjoyed a sustainable lifestyle in the lands now called the United States,  African tribes maintained long-held religious practices and lived in stable communities.

Facts about the exploitation of places now referred to as “Third World” are available to anyone with a modicum of curiosity and reason. In a world before Trump, knowledge of these facts by a person elected president would have been taken for granted. Such knowledge would inform attitudes as well as foreign policy, most especially our immigration policies as, allegedly, the most advanced nation on earth.

Slavery became common within much of Europe during the Dark Ages and it continued into the Middle Ages. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Arabs and a number of West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade, especially after 1600. David P. Forsythe wrote: “The fact remained that at the beginning of the nineteenth century an estimated three-quarters of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will either in some form of slavery or serfdom.”[2]

The conquest of African nations occurred for two reasons: Christian zealotry convinced of its supremacy and the acquisition of wealth. Christian and Muslim missionaries still plague Africa, preaching sin and redemption to people who originally possessed sophisticated spiritual beliefs that had served them well for millennia. Social disruption and war resulted—my religion is the true one and infidels must die. Much of the warfare in Africa today is based on conflicts between Christians, Muslims, and tribal traditions. This serves several objectives—it keeps the local people at a disadvantage so they’re more easily exploited and it sells weapons of war, fattening the wallets of First World industrialists.

As for the direct acquisition of wealth, in the ages before modern machinery, slaves were the machines who tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested the crops. Crops for food, crops for textiles like cotton, and crops for rope and other industrial materials enriched farmers. More slaves equaled more money. If advancing social conscience hadn’t eliminated slavery, likely the advance of the machines would have accomplished much of the same thing. (Or, arguably, the elimination of slavery helped push the development of machines.)

But slaves weren’t the only wealth captured from these “shithole” countries and exploited by European conquerors.[3] “Africa has a large quantity of natural resources, including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, but also woods and tropical fruits.”[4] Once European nations discovered these resources, they couldn’t keep their hands off. Using primarily enslaved indigenous people to perform the labor in mining these resources, European nations built their wealth on the backs of African people and their native wealth.

This smash-and-grab mentality continues today. Much of the chaos of Central and South American countries is a result of American agricultural interests controlling the vast majority of suitable cropland. Here in these winter-free zones, crops can grow year round and keep the supermarket shelves full even in January. The story of American exploitation and criminal interference among our neighbors to the south portends a timebomb waiting to go off in our faces.

Under previous presidents and as the United States has tried to become more than an imperialist power in the world, programs to help improve conditions in “shithole” countries have been an important objective. Unlike our current president, previous holders of that formerly-prestigious office have supported programs to help improve conditions for native peoples. Education, health care, and social reforms have been part of an outreach that included a proportioned immigration quota.

The denigration of nations and even an entire continent by racist labeling shows nothing about those places or their people compared to what it shows about the person uttering the denigration. What Trump’s profanity reveals is a man totally bereft of curiosity, respect, and knowledge about the world around him, a man whose only goal in life is self-aggrandizement. That his petulant narrow vision should spread such shame over our entire nation is a horror that can end none too soon.

~~~

This post is dedicated to Martin Luther King, a man who rose to the pinnacle of human achievement, unlike the man current soiling the White House.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Haiti

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploitation_colonialism

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_resources_of_Africa

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The Health of Arkansas

Yesterday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson beamed as he announced a drop in the number of state residents receiving health insurance through Medicaid.

Today there are fewer Arkansans on Medicaid than when I took office in January 2015, while our state’s population continues to increase. In the last year alone, the rolls have decreased by 117,000 (10%). Because of the reduction in Medicaid enrollment, DHS is now projecting that it will spend roughly half a billion dollars LESS (taxpayer money) on Medicaid in SFY’19 than anticipated in the biennial budget.

Perhaps to some, this is great news. We’re saving money! Woopee! All those freeloaders out there sucking on the government teat are now out in the cold where they belong.

But wait. We’re talking about medical care here, people who are sick or disabled or otherwise unable to obtain health care because they can’t afford to buy insurance. By his own numbers, our governor just celebrated the fact that 117,000 people of Arkansas are no longer able to obtain health care.

Now maybe that’s not exactly true. Maybe some of those folks got well from cancer or liver failure or whatever caused them to qualify for Medicaid. Maybe some of them got great jobs and have insurance now through their employers. Maybe some of them became the sudden beneficiary of their Aunt Tilley’s fabulous estate. Or won the lottery.

Or maybe not.

The reduction might have something to do with the federal government’s deep cut in advertising about how to sign up for health care. Or the federal government’s reduction in the sign-up time period. Or the state’s questionable method of deciding who to remove from the program—the electronic data system currently in use automatically deletes anyone who doesn’t respond to a request for income information. As in, one lost piece of mail. One overlooked letter amid a pile of unpaid bills. One person’s inability to comprehend what is being asked of him as he undergoes chemotherapy.

Last year, the governor looked for all the ways he could reduce the amount of money Arkansas pays for health coverage. As reported in the Arkansas Times in the May 2, 2017, edition, the governor’s goal was to lower the income limits.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas expanded Medicaid via a unique policy known as the private option, which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance plans for low-income Arkansans. The concept was later re-branded as “Arkansas Works” by the governor. The expansion covers adults who make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level — that’s $16,400 for an individual or $33,600 for a family of four.

The governor’s proposed changes to eligibility remove anyone who makes more than the federal poverty line (that’s $11,880 for an individual or $24,300 for a family of four) from the Arkansas Works program. Only people who make less than the poverty line would qualify going forward. That includes not just the beneficiaries who are covered by private option plans but also those who were deemed medically frail under Arkansas Works (the 10 percent of beneficiaries with the greatest medical needs, who are currently routed to the traditional Medicaid program rather than private option plans).[1]

So just to be clear, any single person earning more than $990 per month or head of household with spouse and two children earning more than $506 per person would no longer qualify for government assistance in gaining health insurance. This hasn’t yet been implemented because the federal government has not yet responded to Gov. Hutchinson’s request for the change. But really, governor?

Even the 138% of poverty level leaves lots of people without access to care. In 2013, 21% of Arkansas adults went without health care because of the cost. Do bragging rights automatically come to Gov. Hutchinson because that number dropped to 15% by 2016? What is 15% anyway, besides a seemingly small number?

The state’s estimated population is 3,004,279. Take away 23.6% of that for people below 18 years of age (non-adults). That leaves 2,295,270 adults. Fifteen percent of that equals 344,290 adults in this state without health care. That’s a lot of friends and neighbors.

In a November 2017 report, the Arkansas Times explained another proposed part of Hutchinson’s Medicaid ‘reform.’

Those between the ages of 18-49 would be required to work 80 hours per month; if they were not working, they would have to participate in job training programs or certain approved volunteer activities. Beneficiaries must be in compliance for nine months out of the year or they would be removed from the program for the duration of the year. Beneficiaries 50 or older would not be subject to the work requirement; exemptions would be available for others who met certain criteria, such as caring for dependent children.[2]

Studies have examined the realities of financial need in the United States and have come up with a set of numbers that reveal just exactly how morally bankrupt is the governor’s reasoning (along with the increasingly evident moral bankruptcy of the entire Republican party).

For a family with two adults and two children, the average cost of living in the United States hovered around $65,000 per year in 2015. The figure excludes discretionary spending on nonessential goods and services, such as leisure, entertainment and luxury items.[3]

To be fair, another source gathering economic data specific to locations gives credit to a lower-than-average cost of living in Arkansas. For a family of four in Little Rock, the average monthly cost is $2876.46. For an individual not paying rent, the monthly cost is estimated at $819.24.[4] However, in the governor’s proposed lower income limit, in neither case is there any ‘leftover’ income adequate to buy health insurance. In case you didn’t notice, the estimated average cost of living for Little Rock is $400 MORE than the cutoff income level for those seeking Medicaid coverage under the governor’s preferred income guidelines.

It’s no secret that Arkansas is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation. We rank 48th. We have higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and general poor health both physically and mentally. In particular, according to a January 1, 2018, report published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, from 2013 to 2016, “the percentage [of Arkansans] who reported that their mental health had not been good in 14 of the past 30 days rose from 14.7 to 16.4 [percent.]”

The report I’d like to hear from Gov. Hutchinson would show data about the number of marginally-employed people who have gained better-paying jobs. It would show how many of those suffering mental or physical illness have gained any improvement in their health. I’d like to hear that Arkansas is spending more, not less, on health care not only in direct services but in education—I’m talking about nutrition education, cooking lessons, and everything else humanly possible to teach people how to eat healthy—which, tragically, probably doesn’t include toaster pastries for breakfast.

I’d like to hear the governor talk about how vouchers and private schools won’t be allowed to siphon money away from public schools. I’d like to hear his analysis of how inadequate education leads to poor self-esteem and how a positive self-image is key to a person’s ability to pay attention to diet and exercise. I’d like to hear him talk about how a person who doesn’t feel good either mentally or physically is a prime candidate for substance abuse.

I’d like to hear the governor discuss the abysmal status of substance abuse treatment options in the state, a crushing health care issue that gets short shrift in public discussion. More on that in another blog.

The governor needs to say that fundamentals like good health and proper education make all the difference in how a person participates as a vital member of society or how he/she gains and maintains sufficient employment. He needs to say, again and again, that a person who is well, who has learned how to reason, and who recognizes the responsibility of self-care and citizenship is the kind of person we absolutely must gain a lot more of in this state.

At any cost.

~~~

[1] https://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2017/05/02/governors-proposed-cuts-to-medicaid-eligibility-will-increase-costs-for-working-poor-likely-to-increase-uninsured-rate

[2] https://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/state-still-awaiting-federal-approval-on-medicaid-expansion-changes/Content?oid=11322951

[3] Cost of Living https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/cost-of-living.asp#ixzz53JNGsNLI

[4] https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/in/Little-Rock

America’s New Greatness

It’s been a crushing year. One after another, hard-won social advancements have been blocked or dismantled in the rush to “Make American Great Again.” But what does that even mean?

Exactly when was America greater? When everyone used outdoor toilets? When women couldn’t work outside the home? When skin color decided who could marry whom, or vote, or eat at a lunch counter?

Is ‘great again’ a worthy goal, the best we should expect? Is the conservative mantra right, that free enterprise and individual liberty “under limited government” was and forever will be the pinnacle of human achievement? If only we could rid ourselves of this ‘big government’ and free ourselves of onerous taxation, would the U.S. of A. become the shining star of the days of yore?

No, no, and no.

Let me explain. At the time of the Founding Fathers, ‘free enterprise’ applied to white male landowners. The constitution ignored the rights of women and non-landowners. Voting rights for Natives or slaves never entered the discussion. The founders conceived of a nation of educated, well-to-do white men who used women, natives, and slaves to meet self-serving goals in creating heirs, seizing ever greater slabs of the continent, and forcing labor from non-whites in order to sustain and increase their wealth.

They weren’t evil men. That’s just how things had always been. No wonder certain white males today would see those as the glory days.

But there’s no lack of free enterprise. Men and women of any class or color routinely open their own businesses. Three out of ten workers in the U. S. are self-employed or are hired by self-employed persons.[1] The ‘small business’ community provides the majority of American jobs.

…large businesses only employ about 38 percent of the private sector workforce while small businesses employ 53 percent of the workforce. In fact, over 99 percent of employing organizations are small businesses and more than 95 percent of these businesses have fewer than 10 employees. The reality is that most Americans are employed by a very small business that has little in common with the tiny sliver of the business demographic represented by corporate America.[2]

The complaint of conservatives is that free enterprise is hindered by big government. They rail against requirements that employers pay into insurance policies that provide medical care for workers injured on the job or that provide health care that meets the employees’ needs. Employers also must pay into Social Security and Medicare funds on a 50-50 basis with the employee’s withheld funds. Employers are required to deduct the appropriate amount of state and federal income tax from employee wages and to deposit this tax into government accounts. Employers also must provide a wage statement at the end of each year (W-2, 1099, etc.).

These requirements annoy the hell out of employers. When I operated my own café, I spent hours working on payroll. I resented spending money on workman’s compensation insurance – I never had an injured employee and all that I paid was money down a hole. But I understood the reason for it. If an employee had become injured, should I expect the government to pay for medical care? Should I personally pay for it? Should the employee be abandoned to pay himself?

These are old problems solved incrementally over a long period of American history back when a majority of legislators worked for the people instead of themselves. We stopped sending disabled or aged persons to poor farms where a pitiful stipend from the state supported them along with the random generosity of wealthy donors who might drop a few crumbs from their tables. We stopped allowing employees to be injured or killed in unsafe workplaces. We required people and their employers to set aside funds for retirement.

Like the Affordable Care Act, social support systems developed by our elected representatives to better provide for the ‘general welfare’ are an evolved safety net for all of us. The simplistic idea that these systems should be dismantled in pursuit of some long-vanished ideal of “free enterprise” fails to recognize all the reasons these systems came into being in the first place. We need them. They serve an important purpose.

‘Individual liberty’ is another often-touted phrase by deconstructionist conservatives. What that concept meant to the founders no longer applies in our current reality. The founders lived on the edge of an unexplored country with such a vast reserve of lands that no one could imagine a time when there weren’t new horizons where young men could ‘go West’ to make their fortunes. Individual liberty was possible only because men gained forty acres or more by simply staking a claim or, in many cases, serving in the military after which they received land grants.[3]

What land is free now? None.

What we took from the Natives was a virgin continent full of natural resources. The lands of Europe had been exploited for over two thousand years and here was a whole new start. Individually and collectively, we harvested those resources while patting ourselves on the back about how smart and industrious we were in building a fabulous new nation. We never considered that sooner or later, the last farmland would be plowed, the last gold nugget would be found, and we would run smack up against the end of the bonanza. We did the same thing here that our forefathers had done in Europe.

Conservatives, enraptured with these myths of a glorious past, believe we can return to times when anyone who wanted to work hard could simply plow his way to success with a mule and a compliant wife. Women, keen for their own ‘individual liberty,’ aren’t so compliant anymore. Farming is no longer a viable path to sufficient livelihood.

Obviously our living standards have changed. No more outdoor toilets or working the fields from dawn to dusk. We’re dependent on electricity and modern medical care and automobiles, all things that as recently as a hundred years ago simply did not factor into the picture for a majority of Americans.

Ever in pursuit of their bankrupt myth, the conservatives’ last gasp is the current grab of political power, attained by selling the myth to those who don’t understand. The conservatives are busy ending food and medical care for the aged, the homeless, and other needy segments of the population. The entire social net crafted over decades is being dismantled in a futile grab for a long-lost past.

The descendants of European colonialism want the glory back. They don’t agree that taking from the rich and giving to the poor is the right approach for modern societies. European nations have already grasped this concept. America today and in the future can never be the America of 1800 or 1900 or even 1950.

Making profit off of sick people or school children is immoral. Just as government regulates utilities, so it must regulate other services required by everyone, including health care and the internet. This is not an appropriate arena for capitalism. Government, not profit-driven capitalists, serves as the most efficient provider for the common welfare –healthcare, affordable housing, education, public transportation, infrastructure like bridges and railways, and a vast network of social services.

Reducing the tax burden for the wealthiest among us accomplishes nothing but the impoverishment of our entire nation. The current imbalance of wealth is clear evidence that the rich should be taxed even more. Expanded social programs should ensure that those at the lowest income levels are brought into counseling, health care, education, and training programs in order to improve their economic status.

We’re a largely urban, multicultural society now, completely different from what the Founding Fathers knew. Just as the founders were right to declare the rights of personal liberty, so were progressives right to end discrimination against minorities, women, and the handicapped and to provide mechanisms by which the damages of such long-term discrimination could be healed. It’s the progressives who have understood that the safety net must be available equally from state to state, a service that only the federal government can ensure.

The personal bankruptcy of a small number of men like Donald Trump and Steve Bannon cannot be allowed to dictate the future of our country. Such men long for a culture where white maleness guarantees ascendancy. Without a white male-dominated social structure, they cannot gain the power they so desperately crave. These are weak men dependent on the subjugation of others for emotional and economic support. They will die off just as the Neanderthal died off.

It’s called failure to evolve.

Here’s a toast to 2018 and the continuing evolution of our great nation.

 

~~~

 

[1] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/10/22/three-in-ten-u-s-jobs-are-held-by-the-self-employed-and-the-workers-they-hire/

[2] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristie-arslan/five-big-myths-about-amer_b_866118.html

[3] Bounties of up to 1,100 acres were granted for Revolutionary War service between 1775 and 1783 and up to 320 acres for the War of 1812 through 1815. Additional free lands went to men fighting in the Mexican War 1846-1848 and in Indian Wars from the 1780s through the 1890s. While outright land grants ended in 1855, Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War received homestead rights along with others meeting certain criteria. Much more on land grants and homestead rights at Wikipedia.

 

What About Cherry Pie?

I love cherry pie. Baking cherry pie as a must-have part of family tradition goes back at least as far as my maternal grandmother and the early 20th century. For the last few years, I’ve skipped the cherry pie not out of intent but out of convenience. With the kids grown and my waistline growing, baking for the holidays has become a questionable activity.

This year I really wanted a cherry pie. So I looked for cherries. Not the fat sweet fruit that can be found canned, frozen, or in the fresh fruit department, but those tart cherries that produce such a fabulous flavor when paired with delicate pastry crust. Yum!

After searching my regular grocery stores, I realized there must be a cherry Grinch out there. Not only were there no tart cherries frozen, canned, or otherwise, there weren’t any empty places on the shelves where they might have been. What is going on?

[For the record, canned cherry ‘pie filling’ is so far off the mark that I refuse to take it into consideration. Mostly sugar and cornstarch, these fillings are no substitute for the real thing.]

I searched online and discovered that for a mere $76.60, I can order five pounds of frozen tart cherries. That’s right—a staggering $15.32 per pound. Plus shipping. Other sources offered slightly better deals. Organic tart cherries, 4.5 pounds for $69.89. Three 24-ounce jars of cherries for $51.95. Or my old standby brand of canned tart cherries, Oregon, only $4.31 per 14.5 ounce can. Plus $8 shipping.

That brings a nine-inch pie, which requires a minimum of two cans, coming in at a cost of $16.60 for the cherries alone.

I’m priced out of my pie!

More research starts to reveal some basic truths. A few years ago, some genius discovered that tart cherries offer all kinds of health benefits including the big headliner, antioxidant effects. A plethora of publications heralded the news, such as an article in Men’s Health citing a study published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In the study, mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms were fed cherry extract, fish oil, and emu oil. Mice running on tart cherry extract performed better on cognitive tests like object recognition than did the control group.[1]

The kicker bit of that study revealed that tart cherry juice performed better in reducing high blood pressure than expensive medications!

No wonder the price of cherries has gone through the roof. They’re in demand as a juice (32 ounces of organic juice for $18.99 from one source) as well as a nutritional supplement (200 capsules of tart cherry 4:1 extract from 300 milligrams and mixed with rice powder—for $11.21).

What is the curious tree at the center of this health versus culinary pleasures conflict?

Prunus cerasus (sour cherry, tart cherry, or dwarf cherry) is a species of Prunus in the subgenus Cerasus (cherries), native to much of Europe and southwest Asia. It is closely related to the sweet cherry (Prunus avium), but has a fruit that is more acidic.

The tree is smaller than the sweet cherry (growing to a height of 4–10 m), has twiggy branches, and its crimson-to-near-black cherries are borne upon shorter stalks. There are several varieties of the sour cherry: the dark-red morello cherry and the lighter-red varieties including the amarelle cherry, and the popular Montmorency cherry. The Montmorency cherry is the most popular type of sour cherry. The reason for its popularity is its use in baking and recipe creation including cherry pies, cherry desserts and other cherry-based recipes.

Well, maybe not so much anymore, now that the harvest is almost entirely devoted to diversions like cherry juice and cherry nutritional supplements.

The fruit’s discovery and popularity dates back to the Romans:

The history of the ‘Montmorency’ tart cherry extends back to ancient Rome. The Romans are credited with discovering this tiny red fruit along the Black Sea in Asia Minor. After Roman legionnaires discovered the tart cherries, they carried them with them and introduced them to the rest of Roman territory. They planted cherry trees alongside Roman roads and soldiers used the fruit for food and the wood to build weapons and repair equipment.[2]

Seems the Romans knew a good thing when they saw it.

The problem isn’t just that newly discovered health benefits have cornered the cherry market. The sour cherry tree likes cooler climates, so much of the domestic crop in the United States grows across the upper regions of the country. And that, according to one farmer’s account as stated in a 2017 report on National Public Radio, is key to my lack of a cherry pie.

The tree is “very cold hardy” in the dead of winter, he says, and grows well in the state. But it is susceptible to damage from spring frost, making it very sensitive to the extreme weather shifts made more likely by climate change… In 2002 and 2012, freezing spring temperatures wiped out almost the entire tart cherry crop here [in Michigan].[3]

Farmers faced with this problem point to efforts underway since the 1980s to produce a new strain of sour cherry tree that would be more forgiving of weather anomalies, but such developments take a long term of trial and error. The farmer quoted in this article questions whether the Montmorency will still be around in fifty years.

Also suffering the effects of climate change, bee populations needed for cherry tree pollination have plunged, forcing many cherry farmers to make extreme efforts to sustain their own bee colonies.

Sadly, many farmers refuse to consider climate change as a factor in their troubles with sour cherry production and thus a potentially powerful lobbying voice is not yet making enough noise for the government to pay attention.

Even if the government turned massive attention and resources to this issue, it’s questionable whether anything can be done. At best estimates, the current rate of climate change won’t be changed any time soon. But there is hope, although I wonder if it will come in time for sour cherries.

We emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide when we burn fossil fuels like coal—or when the cattle that get turned into burgers fart. When those emissions enter the atmosphere, they trap the sun’s heat, warming the planet. It’s basic physics. The increased heat can become catastrophic by melting the polar ice caps, raising sea levels, and creating weather patterns that are less predictable, more volatile, and more dangerous. Because we’ve been warming the planet this way since the early days of the industrial revolution, we can’t completely avoid the effects of climate change. But by lowering our emissions now, we can avoid the worst effects.[4]

The article goes on to describe a few key changes individuals can make in life choices that will strongly impact climate change including having fewer children and cutting way back on meat consumption. Uh huh.

At my age, I won’t live long enough to see the worst of climate change or the ultimate fate of my beloved tart cherries. That’s just one of many regrets facing me and everyone else as we grow older. But I may experiment with dried cherries to see if rehydrating produces a decent pie. The least expensive source I’ve found offers a one-pound bag for $11.99.[5]

Here’s a recipe I’m going to try, assuming I can afford the shipping:

  • 3 c. dried cherries
  • 3 c. boiling water – some recipes suggest cherry juice instead of water
  • ¼ c. cornstarch
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. almond extract or ⅛ tsp. lemon juice (alternatively, try brandy or Amaretto)

Cover cherries with boiling water, cover and let soak for 30 minutes. Turn burner on medium, simmer and add sugar and flour to thicken. Remove from heat, add almond extract. Pour into prepared pie crust and add top crust. Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.[6]

I’ll let you know if it’s worth the effort.

~~~

[1] https://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/what-to-eat/5-health-benefits-tart-cherries

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montmorency_cherry

[3] https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/04/07/523004370/michigans-tart-cherry-orchards-struggle-to-cope-with-erratic-spring-weather

[4] Excellent article “How You Can Actually Help Stop Climate Change” by Kendra Pierre-Louis, published July 12, 2017, in Popular Science magazine. https://www.popsci.com/how-to-stop-climate-change

[5] https://nuts.com/driedfruit/cherries/sour-tart.html

[6] Adapted from https://www.justapinch.com/recipes/dessert/pie/homemade-cherry-pie-filling.html

Is Rock and Roll Dying?

As soon as the caller identified himself, my heart sank. Not another one. I let him explain—barely making it, bandmate working three jobs, time to cut back.

This truth hit them suddenly. No time for thirty days’ notice. He’d moved all their stuff out early that day—amps, speakers, drums, guitars, miscellany only musicians know. All of it now crammed into corners of already cramped living space, it won’t see use. It will sit there until their finances improve or until, on some forlorn day, they decide to sell it.

My vacancy rate now hovers at twenty-five percent – four studios out of sixteen. It’s actually worse than that. I’m down to three actual bands plus one unit occupied by a drummer who needs a place to practice when his band isn’t on the road and one unit occupied by a retiree who used to be a big time guitarist. He and his wife live in an RV, no place for him to play.

Then there are the hip-hop and rap guys, three studios without a drum or instrument, nothing but a computer set up, comfortable furniture, and microphones.

The other rented studios are occupied by an accountant, a masseuse, a writer, and an artist. I’m actively advertising the units as office space, work space, a place to store things if someone needs a temperature- and humidity-controlled room. There are two bathrooms including one with a shower for rinsing off that after-gig smoke-and-booze film that mixes with sweat and sticks to hair, skin, and clothing. There’s a break area with microwave, bar sink, and coffee maker.

There’s a loading dock leading to an entry with a keypad lock, steel doors set in steel frames set in concrete block walls. Another key code is required for each tenant to enter his individual studio. Surveillance cameras further enhance security for tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear acquired over time—keyboards, sophisticated mixing boards, smoke machines plus t-shirts, CDs, and other promotional items. Most of all, the studios provide sound control. Heavy metal played at two a.m. does not leak outside because the walls and ceilings are double-layered, offset with sound clips.

It’s a niche business, something I got into by accident. Back in 1989, I gained ownership of an old railroad property where my dad and I had operated our piano repair business since 1981. The ramshackle buildings stretched along a block of spur track once served as warehouses, a 1940s Quonset hut among them. We used only half of one building, leaving room for multiple renters. As it turned out, the greatest demand for space was rock and roll bands who needed rehearsal space.

Many repairs and changes in those old buildings over the coming years created eleven rehearsal units. Even at that, I usually had a waiting list. Nothing about those old buildings worked well for bands—except the price, ranging from $200 to $300 per month. Sound leaked out so badly that police forced rehearsal shut-downs on a regular basis. Keyed doors meant a continuous drama over lost keys or the need for new locks because the drummer lost his mind and they wanted him locked out. No humidity control, no central heat or AC.

Around 2003 when retirement rolled around and we shut down the piano business, real estate development was exploding all around me. I caught the fever. Perfectly positioned between the university, downtown, and the entertainment district, the property could be the home of a profitable development of apartments or condos alongside commercial space. One of the questions that came up during that two-year frenzy of architects, engineers, city planners, and financial shenanigans was: What about the bands?

The bands. By now hundreds of bands had sojourned there, some famous, most of them not. Some lasting a few months, some for years. I continued to have a waiting list.

So I spent considerable time looking at affordable properties where I could create the best possible rehearsal studio space. I borrowed money for a down payment and contracted with various trades for a remodel of an existing building. I went into debt for a quarter million dollars.

On opening day, April 2006, the studios filled up. Except for a few dark months at the bottom of the recession in 2008-9, they stayed filled. At some points, bands shared space in the larger units and still there was a waiting list.

Then, inexplicably in spring 2016, all that changed. Rent was paid late or in partial amounts along with fervent promises—soon as we get this recording deal done, soon as we get back from tour. Vacancies didn’t get filled. By the end of the year, four vacancies existed from month to month. By mid-2017, there were five.

I’ve talked about this with some of the musicians who have rented from me for years. The sad truth is that the local scene has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, especially in the last ten. Back in the day, a person out for a night of revelry could stand on the sidewalk on Dickson Street and hear rock and roll leaking out into the night from clubs up and down the street. Live music brought in the customers, eager to support their favorite bands with a small cover charge. The money added up for the bands, and the club owners made money off the drinks.

People thronged the dance floor, shouting and laughing as the heavy beat and guitar riffs joined them together in a primal celebration of life. These were songs of the soul in the glorious tradition of rock and roll, an expression too heavy for mere words. This was the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, and all the greats and not so greats who tapped into the zeitgeist of the times in protest of war, of social injustice, of human angst in the unspeakable onslaught of life itself. We needed the music to get us through.

Do we not need it anymore?

One club owner explained to me that the whole scene changed as more people got iPhones. Patrons wanted to be free to circulate up and down the street, meet friends at one place, go to another. It was about seeing and being seen. Texting ruled. No one wanted to pay a cover or cared whether there was live music. Now on any given night, a person standing on the sidewalk finds the street mostly silent. Two or three clubs still invite live performance and there are occasional music fests. But the bread and butter money has dried up.

More than the loss of local venues is the lingering impact of economic downturn. Prices for food, rent, and everything else has gone up but wages haven’t. For young men and women hoping to move forward in the music industry, there simply isn’t enough to go around and still cover a modest $250 to $300 per month studio rent even when shared among three or four bandmates.

And why should they? Since music went digital, the scaffolding holding up the music industry has mostly collapsed. People routinely steal downloads. Whatever tiny increments of profit someone’s CD might generate are siphoned off by the recording studio and the promoters leaving the band with barely enough to cover the costs of touring.

People take music for granted. It’s ubiquitous. In every office and marketplace, every movie and television show, every waking moment, music undergirds our voice-overs. If someone suddenly pulled the plug and music disappeared, we would stand aghast at the disconcerting silence. The musical background spans awkward moments in conversation, social unease as we crowd together as strangers in increasingly jammed spaces, and in long private moments when we don’t want to face whatever is going on in our own minds.

We rely on music in ways we hardly realize. But we’re mostly not willing to pay for it. It’s not only that musicians are often forced to play for free, it’s that the economy places little value on it.

Four vacancies is my break even point. Fewer means I gain a slim profit to bring home to supplement my meager Social Security. More means the operation isn’t meeting its expenses. A continuation of the status quo means I have to think seriously about selling the property, and I’m not sure that the property will bring what I still owe.

At the time I jumped into the new building, spent weeks learning about acoustics and building materials and security systems, I diligently wrote out my business plan. In the part where I needed to describe my exit plan, I described how the spaces could be used for offices or work spaces or even living quarters. But, I added, rock and roll will never die.

Maybe it won’t. Maybe this is just a weird bubble on the local scene that has little relevance to the future of this art form. Maybe in the near future, local talent will again seek out space to create musical statements about the emotions and challenges we face. The big concerts still draw tens of thousands of fans, and a handful of stars still earn their fortunes in the trade, so there’s still the hope of fame and fortune for those intrepid few who gut out the hardship and keep playing.

I hope I can hold out and do my part to keep the dream alive.

The Poverty of Conservatism

 

A continuing crisis plagues Arkansas. Like a snake eating its tail, poverty, addiction and mental illness, teen pregnancy, sexual violence against women, and low educational achievement perpetuate themselves as a result of entrenched conservative thinking. Costs for addressing these problems continue to skyrocket while the state’s earning power lingers near the bottom.

Where do we cut the snake?

Arkansas ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of poverty. In 2015, 19.1% percent of the state’s households—one fifth—have incomes below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.[1]  For 2016, the state’s population of 2,887,337 included 550,508 people living in poverty.[2]

In a direct correlation to the poverty rate, the state ranks 39 out of 50 states in how well students are educated.[3] The state slips further down the scale for persons 25 years of age when considering the following factors: Only 84.8% graduate high school. Only 21.1% obtain a bachelor’s degree, a ranking that puts Arkansas at 48th out of 50. And only 7.5% obtain graduate degrees, a rank of 49 out of 50.[4]

We hover near the bottom at 46 in terms of mental illness in a compilation of 15 factors including all ages, availability of treatment, and addiction rates.[5] Between 2010 and 2014, over one third of teens in need of mental health treatment did not receive it while over 53% of adults did not. Only 20% of Arkansas residents with drug dependence and 10% with alcohol dependence received treatment.[6]

The state consistently ranks in the top five for teen pregnancies with up to 80 births per 1000 occurring among teen girls ages 15 to 19. Of these, 60% are white, 27% are black, and 11% are Hispanic. Counties with the highest rates included Sevier, Nevada, Arkansas, St. Francis, Mississippi, Jackson, and Randolph.[7]

According to a 2014 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Children born to teen parents are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and to become teen parents themselves. Every year, thousands of young Arkansans enter one or both systems. Research shows that, nationwide, the children of teen mothers are twice as likely to be placed in foster care as their peers born to slightly older parents. Sons of teen mothers are 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated than the sons of mothers aged 20 to 21.[8]

The crisis becomes most apparent in the number of Arkansas children in foster care. From March 2015 to March 2016, the total number of available and in-use beds in foster homes increased from 2,801 to 3,306, but the number of foster children also increased, from 4,178 to 4,791. A 2016 report states that substance abuse by caregivers accounts for over 50% of children in foster care.[9]

Despite such high rates of teen pregnancies, many Arkansas school districts do not provide any sex education. Many others offer abstinence-only education including a virginity pledge (14 districts[10]), a ridiculous non-starter since census records show that over 52% of Arkansas teens are sexually active. Only seven school districts provide comprehensive sex education addressing contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 37.4% to 38.5% of women in Arkansas experience at least one event of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These experiences include rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.[11] Among sexually active teens, 18% of females report acts of violence (being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating) and 16% reported being raped.[12]

Are Arkansas citizens somehow genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions? Is it something in the water? Or might the answer be found in the conservative mindset of a majority of Arkansas citizens?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the number of churches per capita. Seventy percent of adults define themselves as ‘highly religious’ with 65% saying they pray daily and 77% saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.[13] The predominant religion practiced in Arkansas is Southern Baptist, a conservative Protestant sect which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, any push for sex education and contraceptives in public schools provokes conservative outrage. By religious thinking, unwanted pregnancies serve as punishment for illicit sex. The burden borne by women in unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare is God’s retaliation for the sins of Eve. As stated in Southern Baptist doctrine, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”[14] Prevention either through birth control or abortion upends the natural order of things as ordained by God.

The prevailing idea of conservative parents is that talking about sex and especially advocating for birth control of any kind creates a permissive attitude wherein teens are more likely to have sex. Data clearly dispute this belief. But the refusal to accept widely accepted evidence about the effectiveness of sex ed fits perfectly with the greater mindset of religious conservatives: willful ignorance about any and all information that doesn’t square with religious teachings.

Under the belief that addiction or non-marital sexual activity are moral failings, many efforts to address non-marital sex, sexual abuse or substance abuse rely on faith-based programs. Yet as noted by a counselor with twenty years in faith-based addiction treatment, “Often times, Christian programs view the secular approach to recovery as counterproductive to their message and will often discredit and even disregard medical or empirical based advice to addiction recovery.”[15]

While embracing some aspects of modern science and the advances of civilization such as automobiles, cell phones, DVRs, and medical progress, conservatives refuse to acknowledge other key findings of our times. Early religions strictly regulated a woman’s sexual activity out of concern for proving paternity and reducing conflict between competing males, among other things.  None of that matters today. Genetic testing quickly solves questions of paternity. But religion has become so institutionalized its practitioners can’t back up far enough to consider its origins or usefulness.

There’s a blind adherence to the tradition of making babies as the primary goal in life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teen pregnancy leads to lack of education which in turn leads to poor employment opportunities, or that a state with a high rate of poorly educated adults won’t attract many employers. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that poorly educated people with poor job opportunities are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol or suffer other forms of mental illness. Inadequate nutrition also plays a role, another cause and result of mental illness and poverty.

Further, an embattled position in poverty with subpar education leads people directly to unreasoned fear of Other—xenophobia and racism.

We have to start with the head of the snake. If we hold any hope of interrupting this vicious cycle, our state and national educational standards must require sex education. Such requirements must be imposed even in private, religious, and home school settings.

The requirements can’t stop there. All children must be required to learn the basics of science, history, political science, and other fields that serve as major elements in critical thinking about the modern world. While the state cannot dictate whether someone embraces any particular religion, we can dictate that our children are adequately prepared to make an informed choice about what to believe.

We cannot allow reactionary religious beliefs and tribalism to undo what civilization has achieved thus far.

The hue and cry against such reforms in education will be loud and long. State and federal legislators will be hard pressed to maintain a firm stance in the face of entrenched dogmatic beliefs. It will take true leaders to enact reforms in a time when leadership seems missing from public life. That means we must elect educated progressives who will carry the weight. The future of our nation depends on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

[2] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/arkansas-2016-report/

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education  The

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

[5] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states

[6] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Arkansas_BHBarometer.pdf

[7] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach,” Ginny Monk. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Sunday September 24, 2017. Page 1.

[8] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-arkansas.aspx

[9] “Children in foster care in Arkansas reaches all-tine high.” Brian Fanney. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 2016. Online access October 18, 2017

[10] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach”

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf

[12] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/arkansas/index.html

[13] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=arkansas

[14] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

[15] http://www.addictioncampuses.com/resources/addiction-campuses-blog/3-reasons-christian-rehabs-dont-work-according-to-a-pastor/

 

The Luddites Were Right

On March 11, 1811, hand loom weavers swarmed the streets of Arnold, Nottingham in the dark of night. They broke into textile factories equipped with the latest technologies, smashed pieces of factory equipment and burned the mills. Over the next five years, the movement spread throughout England. Industrialists invested in safe rooms inside their factories to protect themselves from attack.

The movement died in its tracks when the government stepped in with mass trials, with over thirty men ultimately executed or transported to penal colonies in Australia. The government went on to pass legislation making equipment destruction a capital offense.[1]

The Luddites didn’t start with violence. Rather, like regular hardworking people, they expected their industrialist employers to make nice as new machines were brought in to replace workers. The employers didn’t bother because nobody made them. They found that higher profits fit quite nicely into their fattening pocketbooks.

The Luddite eruption speaks to a trend that ticked up to light speed in the twentieth century.  More and more workers are forced to find new careers. No one could argue that this has been a bad thing. Gone are the backbreaking labors of producing food, clothing, and life’s many necessities. We have refrigeration, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, automobiles, and iPhones. But for each of these inventions, there has been a devastating impact on jobs.

Without the sense of accomplishment and self-respect that a job well done provides, modern people face an unexpected dilemma. Latest job forecasts say if you want a job in the next twenty years, you’ll need to plan for one of the following careers: registered nurse, retail salesperson, home health aide, personal care aide, office clerk, food service, customer service representative, truck driver, laborers and movers in freight, or post-secondary teaching.

Jobs that have no future include farming and ranching, postal workers, sewing machine operators, telephone operators including answering services, and data entry.[2] Some might argue that even these forecasts are overly optimistic. Consider this May 2017 report from Pew Research:

Machines are eating humans’ jobs talents. And it’s not just about jobs that are repetitive and low-skill. Automation, robotics, algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) in recent times have shown they can do equal or sometimes even better work than humans who are dermatologists, insurance claims adjusters, lawyers, seismic testers in oil fields, sports journalists and financial reporters, psychological testers, crew members on guided missile destroyers, retail salespeople, and border patrol agents. Moreover, there is growing anxiety that technology developments on the near horizon will crush the jobs of the millions who drive cars and trucks, analyze medical tests and data, perform middle management chores, dispense medicine, trade stocks and evaluate markets, fight on battlefields, perform government functions, and even replace those who program software – that is, the creators of algorithms.[3]

Observers from all sides are split pretty much 50-50 on whether the result of increased technology in the workplace will be a vast reduction in available jobs or a burgeoning growth of new jobs. One could argue that for every robot providing legal services, there will be a robot repair person lingering in the hallway. Yet present-day robotics in factories don’t require a repair person for every job lost to a former factory worker, and there’s no reason to believe this would change in the future.

Especially since robotic repairs are increasingly performed primarily by robots.

Complicating the labor marketplace of the future is the rapid rate of change in our technology. Retraining workers for new jobs, some argue, can’t keep up with the rate of change. John Sniadowski, a systems architect and participant in the Pew Study noted:

By the time the training programs are widely available, the required skills will no longer be required. The whole emphasis of training must now be directed towards personal life skills development rather than the traditional working career-based approach.[4]

Whether or not education and training programs can keep up with the rate of technological change, none of that addresses the more personal issues of job loss. Does a former factory worker yank his kids out of school to move to another city? What about trying to sell the family home in a city that has become a ghost town? What about the aging parents who live down the street and depend on you for care?

What about that skill set so laboriously learned now heaped in the trash bin as a machine produces a crude facsimile?

Personal losses mount up as jobs disappear, even if free training and relocation costs are provided—which mostly they aren’t. Loss of community means, in many cases, loss of identity. Who are you in a new town where nobody knows your name?

The success of Donald Trump in playing these emotions depended on his promise to workers to get their old jobs back. In just a few months since he took office, it’s become increasingly clear that those were empty promises. Coal jobs aren’t coming back. Factory jobs aren’t coming back. It doesn’t matter how many grandstanding press conferences Trump holds.

In opposition to Trump’s promises to turn back the clock, the harsh realities are that not only is automation and not immigration increasingly displacing America’s middle and lower-class workers but also that the government must step in to provide relief. While conservatives fervently argue that shrinking government will reduce taxes and therefore provide much needed economic relief for Americans, the opposite is true. Government is the only entity that can solve the problem of job loss resulting from increased automation. Government must grow in order to accomplish such a gargantuan task.

Luddites didn’t hate machinery nor did they wish to turn back the clock to eliminate machinery. They recognized that a reduction in body-breaking labor served people well. At its core, their movement hoped to bring workers together into unions that could bargain for better working conditions, protection in cases of sickness, and in general promote solidarity among workers. This in turn would offset the power of capital’s investment in machines instead of workers and its disregard for labor as a disposable element in production.

As noted in a recent Smithsonian article:

People of the time recognized all the astonishing new benefits the Industrial Revolution conferred, but they also worried, as Carlyle put it in 1829, that technology was causing a “mighty change” in their “modes of thought and feeling. Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand.” Over time, worry about that kind of change led people to transform the original Luddites into the heroic defenders of a pre-technological way of life.[5]

The same anxiety led to the ‘back to the land’ movement of the 1960s and ‘70s where college-educated young people left the cities to occupy remote rural farms where they consulted with old timers and publications like the Foxfire books about how to farm, tend animals, and put in sufficient stores to survive the winter in makeshift homes.

Once traditional knowledge is lost, whether it’s how to grow and preserve food or how to build hand looms to knit stockings, how many millennia would it take to re-invent those skills? What repository of knowledge exists, outside of libraries which require literacy and—even more fragile—digital information, that can transfer thousands of years of human learning to the next generation?

Once we rely on automatons to build our homes, provide our medication dosages, and produce our crops, what happens when they fail?

At its core, the Luddite movement sought protection for workers so that in the case of advancing technology, mechanisms installed by the industrialist and enforced by the government would provide for the workers’ welfare. Whether retraining, retirement, or a modest stipend in unemployment income, some provision must be made to care for those displaced by technology. After all, machines vastly increase profits by speeding up production. Some of those profits should benefit the former workers instead of lining the pockets of the already wealthy.

The discussion needs to be had. We need to understand that corporate investment in advancing automation does not necessarily mean that it rests on the workers alone to solve their under- or unemployment problems. They didn’t cause the problem. Corporations should be taxed at rates sufficient to provide better options for cast-off workers. Increased profits resulting from automation should automatically be taxed at a very high rate to offset worker losses from displacement.

Modern culture needs to recognize that as we move deeper into a post-industrial, automated world, increasing numbers of people will not have jobs as we understand them today. Political leaders are sorely needed who will clearly voice this reality and put forth meaningful alternatives to ridiculous and empty proposals like Trump’s promise to bring back coal jobs.

~~~

More discussion on this:

Michael Coren’s article “Luddites have been getting a bad rap for 200 years. But, turns out, they were right.” at Quartz

David Auerbach’s article: “It’s OK To Be a Luddite.” at Slate

Bryan Appleyard’s article: “The new Luddites: why former digital prophets are turning against tech” at New Statesman

Paul Krugman’s column: “Sympathy for the Luddites” in the New York Times

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

[2] https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https%3A//www.forbes.com/pictures/efkk45fmhd/the-jobs-with-the-brightest-future-2/&refURL=https%3A//www.google.com/&referrer=https%3A//www.google.com/

[3] http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/03/the-future-of-jobs-and-jobs-training/

[4] Ibid

[5] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-the-luddites-really-fought-against-264412/