One of the great things about Merida, over Buffalo, is sleeping with the windows wide open all winter. Here up north, it almost feels about time to take the storm windows off. But let’s not be hasty!
Memorial Day weekend is an important seasonal marker. In the Buffalo area, some of us joke that the snow is usually melted by now, when in fact it is daffodil blossoms that have fallen and melted away into humus for next year’s growth. To paraphrase, Except a daffodil falls into the ground and dies, it has opted out of Life’s plan. But if it dies, it brings forth many future blossoms. (see John 12, especially v.24)
Memorial Day is about remembering. As some have said freedom isn’t free. Yes, a high cost has been paid. Some understand this. Others, not so much. But the season invites us annually to pause from our liberties to reflect. Of course, some duties require our labor, not affording us time off. But such duties don’t generally preclude reflection. Gratitude is understanding. Are we grateful for what has been done for us?
I remember being a Cub Scout, and refusing to march in a Memorial Day parade because the memory of the previous year’s march was still vivid – heat, thirst, weary feet, boredom. So I adamantly refused, and my mother then excused my participation; but she wouldn’t allow me to attend the festivities after the parade. Clearly, I didn’t understand yet what had been done for me only a decade earlier, by those who didn’t come home from WW2. (I may not yet understand sacrifice, but I’m more focused and curious.)
Do we remember? Are we curious? Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15, especially v.13)
Painting: MOWING THE LAWN ON MEMORIAL DAY, oil on canvas, by Eric Chaffee, from photo by me, 1996. Awarded Landmark Prize, Alden Art Club, 2000.
Where the eyes wander, the feet may follow. And there is potential for great sadness awaiting some wanderers. A few years ago a good client fell to this affliction. He was (and is!) an otherwise fine and likable man. Today he is serving time in federal prison in Louisiana. ¶ I volunteer at a local prison every Saturday here near Buffalo to conduct what I call a stealth ethics class in the guise of a nondenominational (Christian) Bible study. We use the text to examine our behavior and relationships, which I’ve been doing since 1999. Believe me when I say that getting a grip, if for no other reason than to stay out of prison, is very much worth the effort. If you, dear reader, are struggling with this issue, I will share this tool which I learned about on radio several years ago. It may help you with private, personal accountability. ¡May that wandering eye cease to roam! Yes, loneliness may be the largest problem on the planet, but it is not satiated by counterfeit love. Know thyself! If this seems difficult, get help!
USA is a nation of immigrants. And it seems that those newly arriving, legally and illegally, get the least amount of respect from those already here. But they pick our food, clean our toilets, build our homes, and defend our nation. A Republican congressman has been trying to extend some respect to the children of illegals who serve in our military, by offering an amendment to the current defense bill. But the leadership of his party won’t allow it even to be discussed!
Yet maybe your member of congress will listen to you. This seems a very fair gesture to those who are willing to die to become fellow citizens. This morning I wrote to my congressman urging him to support this amendment. We won’t break the deadlock in Washington merely by complaining to each other! They need to hear from us. You can do that by emailing them, and here’s a door to learn how. Simply enter your zip code beneath the map. Then click on the name that pops up to be transported to that member’s website, where you can make contact by email, by phone, or by letter. Urge them to support the ENLIST Act. (HR 2377; either/or Mr Denham’s amendment to the defense spending authorization on this matter.)
Art is such fun. It touches our lives everywhere. And in the item above, it touches our skin with the skin of another creature. While I’m not a fan of wearing leather, especially in the heat of Yucatan where shorts have become part of my uniform of the day, these shorts could be sexy on the right figure. I found them at the newly released collection of images from MoMA, which can be browsed online. Browsing by category, I noticed their collection of Mexican art. Click for a virtual visit to Mexico. Then come see for yourself!
As a student of design, I enjoyed the art of packaging. One of my professors had students design furniture with corrugated cardboard flats, making some very strong, lightweight, fashionable items. Here’s a revision of the classic egg box which is rather elegant, and perhaps about to replace the earlier approach at your local grocery. The story of this design student’s homework is told and illustrated by BBC.
There’s a pest on the horizon which could spoil your breakfast, called Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP). It has devastated the citrus industry in Florida, and has now been spotted in California. Surely Yucatan growers are watching carefully. (But it might be appropriate to relish that orange juice and fruit while we have it!) The result of this infestation is something called greening, which causes fruit to drop early, before it’s ripe, rendering it useless. Florida is experimenting with gene splicing, which could entail replanting the entire population of orange trees there. California is trying to contain the pest using tiny Asian wasps which feed on it, as reported by National Public Radio.
Hey, I know nothing about this topic, but . . . Yucatan is in the swim, according to this article from Smithsonian Magazine. Apparently a very important 12,000-year old skeletal find turned up in a cave near a cenote (sinkhole), which is helping rewrite the history of ancient peoples in the hemisphere. Here’s a photo from that article, which is pressing the question, who were the first Native Americans?
BOOK REVIEW. THE DIVIDE: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Finally, I get it! I’m something of a news junkie, choosing carefully and reading deeply. So it has been perplexing to watch unprosecuted criminality committed by the financial community over the past decade go unpunished. The excuses coming from our top cop, Attorney General Eric Holder, have been timid. A close look at the facts shows that these excuses are also lame.
But now, thanks to excellent research and storytelling by journalist Matt Taibbi, I finally am able to grasp what has happened. He makes a clear and compelling case that America now has two classes of justice: for the rich; and for the rest of us. No, I’m not charging class warfare! Instead, it appears to be a case of willful moral blindness. This is why a welfare mom who works a side job goes to jail for defrauding the government; but individual bank employees who lie to courts and steal from taxpayers don’t even get charged. Yeah, maybe the bank pays a fine, but no bank employee ever does a perp walk. Yet there are plenty of victims, and the suffering of private citizens and the dollar volume – are both huge. It is more than coincidence that thousands of illegal acts were done by nobody.
This book will open your eyes if you genuinely want to see how and where America has failed. But if not, go back to sleep; the revolution won’t be televised. Someday the nation will simply be gone. Justice is not the advantage of the stronger, as discussed in chapter two of Plato’s REPUBLIC. Equal protection (justice) before the law is our foundation. To return there, we need to look around, re-awaken, and acknowledge what is simply wrong and unacceptable. (Note: crude language abounds.) † end of my review †
FROM DUST JACKET, INSIDE FLAP: Over the last two decades, America has been falling deeper and deeper into a statistical mystery:
Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles.
Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world’s wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail.
In search of a solution, journalist Matt Taibbi discovered the Divide, the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends—growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration—come together, driven by a dramatic shift in American citizenship: Our basic rights are now determined by our wealth or poverty. The Divide is what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime—but it’s impossible to see until you look at these two alarming trends side by side.
In The Divide, Matt Taibbi takes readers on a galvanizing journey through both sides of our new system of justice—the fun-house-mirror worlds of the untouchably wealthy and the criminalized poor. He uncovers the startling looting that preceded the financial collapse; a wild conspiracy of billionaire hedge fund managers to destroy a company through dirty tricks; and the story of a whistleblower who gets in the way of the largest banks in America, only to find herself in the crosshairs. On the other side of the Divide, Taibbi takes us to the front lines of the immigrant dragnet; into the newly punitive welfare system which treats its beneficiaries as thieves; and deep inside the stop-and-frisk world, where standing in front of your own home has become an arrestable offense. As he narrates these incredible stories, he draws out and analyzes their common source: a perverse new standard of justice, based on a radical, disturbing new vision of civil rights.
Through astonishing—and enraging—accounts of the high-stakes capers of the wealthy and nightmare stories of regular people caught in the Divide’s punishing logic, Taibbi lays bare one of the greatest challenges we face in contemporary American life: surviving a system that devours the lives of the poor, turns a blind eye to the destructive crimes of the wealthy, and implicates us all. [end paste of dust jacket quote]
There is a festival in January in Chiapas state where masks depicting Spanish conquerors are worn by the locals. These masks feature blue-eyed faces with dark beards. For me, the concept prompts that famous question who is my neighbor? (v29). This morning I bumped against the flip side of that question, in the form of a hard saying: Love your enemies (v43). My encounter appears in a powerful novel I’m reading, titled LIAR’S GOSPEL (my review of May 9 is titled FLAWED, BUT CENTRAL). Here’s the dialog which arrested me from reading further, and brought me to making this blog entry – (from p.98):
[He] imagined what would happen if these words would travel from mouth to mouth, from mind to mind, from one city to the next to the next if this simple message – love your enemy – were the accepted creed of all the world. He did not see how it could happen. ¶ “If one man were against it,” he said at last, “the whole thing would be broken. In a world of peace, a world of soft people with no knives, one man could destroy everything.” ¶ “Then we cannot rest until every man has heard it. Think,” said Yehoshuah softly, “what shall we use up our lives for? More war, like our fathers and their fathers, more of that? Or shall we use ourselves for better purpose? Is this not worth your life?” ¶ And Iehuda saw it, just for a moment. In this instant, the whole world was new to him.
† In Yucatan the Maya say I am another you. Before we can grasp that, we need to remove the masks which we’ve allowed to conceal the face of the other.
Relax. Let God do my seeing, my knowing
of what crosses my path. And such crosses there are, or could be!
Relax. Surrender my right and my need to be right (or wrong) –
of doing things my way, fretting, for such paths are long.
Relax. Just be, and see – thru God’s eyes, no longer my own.
Behold God’s creating – sensing God’s peace.
Relax. Lay down the burden of self-invention, -maintenance, –defense.
Peace will surround, be found, descend, when we come to the end
of writing our own stolen stories, contrived to impress – who? –
and give back God’s pen!