Tag Archives: Ann Gaylia O’Barr

Men at Home

Until the industrial age, women’s contribution to the economic well being of their families was as important as that of men. They worked on farms and in home based shops and businesses along with their fathers and brothers and husbands. In addition, children knew their fathers on a close, daily basis.

With the industrial age, work and home began to separate. Men went off to factories and city offices. Women stayed home to raise the children. Women were separated from the economic function, but men were separated from the home.

In the past few decades, women entered the economic sphere once again. However, the separation between home and work continues, for the most part, with too many fathers absent from close contact with their families.

Here and there, the digital age brings changes. Some businesses operate from private homes. Some corporation employees work partly from their homes.

Still, family remains an afterthought in our current life. The career person, man or woman, is in the spotlight—often portrayed as a gung-ho, get-it-done, partying millennial.

We lack, though, a work environment that allows home and work to more closely align.

No one supposes that every man and woman should become a parent. However, it’s to our benefit to create a society that allows its citizens (men and women) to choose both family and career if they wish.

In fact, our survival depends on birthing and raising responsible offspring more than it does on any career.

Whatever Happened to Puerto Rico?

We haven’t heard much lately about the hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. Maybe by the time Hurricane Maria devastated the island, we were bored with hurricane coverage.

After all, we had already followed Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. Time to switch to more cheerful stuff, perhaps the latest breakup of a celebrity couple or our Facebook accounts of what we ate for lunch.

Bill McKibben, writing in Sojourners (‘Earth’s New Vulnerabilities,” December, 2017), recounts some of the devastation in Puerto Rico we may not have noticed. “Gone were airports and roads. Eighty percent of the island’s crops were destroyed . . . Almost all the cell towers. . . . Electricity was suddenly a thing of the past . . . Modernity retreats.”

To be sure, the aftermath of all three major U.S. hurricanes, not to mention the wildfires in California, strain our resources.

McKibben draws a deeper lesson. “We’re starting to realize how unbuffered the whole planet is . . . everywhere new vulnerabilities emerge almost daily.”

He calls on us to “staunch the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. Maria is what happens with 1 degree Celsius of global warming. We’re currently on a path for an increase of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius. That would be enough to join the whole planet in a community of collapse.”

Anybody for bringing back those forbidden words “climate change”?

The Hunger Games: When People Are Desperate

Early in the first book of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, Prim. In a post apocalyptic North America, Prim is marked by a “reaping” ceremony.

The ceremony chooses youth to participate in an obscene game where desperate teenagers are forced to kill each other for the amusement of a corrupt empire’s elites. (The series alludes to the “bread and circus” of the Roman Empire’s arena games.)

As Katniss ignites a resistance movement, she becomes the symbol of a downtrodden people finally rebelling against the sins of a bloated, selfish aristocracy.

In one scene, an old man defiantly raises his hand in the salute that came to define those resisting evil. He would be killed and so would many others, as the elite answered with the only weapon they knew—physical power.

But his defiance is a beginning.

Another scene begins with only a muttering, barely discernable. Then figures rise out of the mist, marching to what they know will be death for many of them. But they are desperate.

They carry their explosives toward a huge hydroelectric dam. They are not so much attacking people, though the structure’s guards will die in the dam’s rupture.

They are attacking a symbol of an evil wealth built on the backs of forgotten, powerless poor.

They march on, their front ranks decimated by the guards’ firing, but eventually their sheer numbers prevail. They set their explosives and try to escape, but regardless, the timers have been set.

The dam explodes, and in the capital, haunt of the wealthy, the lights go out.

The theme of The Hunger Games is not new: a people may overcome when hope ignites enough willingness to suffer for a greater good. The old narrative of helpless people resisting the overlordship of a corrupt elite entices us with its stark portrayal of injustice.

I’m uneasy with the violence of the series, if violence is intended as the ultimate answer to wrongs. Nonviolence, a part of countless protests from the American civil rights movement to others in eastern European countries and other parts of the world, mark a higher way to resist evil.

This kind of resistance wishes not to demonize but rather to change both powerful and powerless.

Needed: Another Miracle to Stave off a Nuclear Winter

If you look at photos of Daniel Ellsberg and the events surrounding the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1967, you first note the dated clothes and the men with longish hair and sideburns, but clean shaven faces.

The Pentagon Papers were the result of a top secret study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Before the war’s end, over 500,000 American troops would be sent to that South Asian nation. Ellsberg had worked on the study and came to believe his country had wrongly chosen military action. Not only that, he believed the government had withheld disturbing facts about our involvement, facts which would cause the public to push for withdrawal.

So he released the results to The New York Times, who began publishing them in a series of articles.

The Department of Justice issued a restraining order against further publication. The newspaper argued the case before the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of the Times. Release of the material was justified under the U.S. Constitutional amendment guaranteeing freedom of the press.

A new movie, The Post, recounts that episode.

Ellsberg today continues his tradition as gadfly. In a new book, The Doomsday Machine, Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Ellsberg reveals plans for nuclear war carried out under former President Dwight Eisenhower, now seeing new life under President Donald Trump.

In an article in Sojourners (“It’s a Miracle We’re Still Here,” January, 2018), Ellsberg is interviewed by James W. Douglass, a peace activist. Ellsberg talks of nuclear madness.

He says the activation of nuclear war today would cause near-extinction of life on earth. Regardless of the nuclear destruction, Ellsberg says, the resulting ash in the stratosphere would doom most, if not all, of earthly life.

Said Ellsberg: “It will be a miracle if we get through another 70 years without setting these weapons off again on humans . . .”

Alluding to the previous miracle that staved off nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Ellsberg continues, “It will take a miracle for the transformation in the world to take place for another 70 years. But fortunately miracles are possible . . . ”

Freedom of Religion: the Right to Choose

Freedom of religion is based on the right to choose your faith community, that is, to associate with those who share your spiritual journey.

Freedom of religion is not something that began with the U.S. Constitution. The Roman Empire generally accepted the right of its subject populations to practice whatever religious beliefs they chose, so long as they did not appear to threaten the empire.

The Jewish Jehovah God was intimately bound to his people, caring for them and demanding a certain standard from them. Prophets tied the worship of God to justice and special concern for the vulnerable. God required his people to worship him and him alone, but the rest of the world could go its own way, as long as no other nation interfered with the Jewish worship of their God.

With Christianity and Islam, a different outlook emerged. At first, Christians saw the gospel as good news to be proclaimed, but they sought no political power. Only later did political leaders try to fuse Christianity with governing authority. This joining led to a perverted view of Christianity as simply one more lever of power.

Islam, the other evangelistic religion, conquered lands for their religion but generally allowed Christians and Jews to live in their own religious communities so long as they paid a tax for the privilege. Unlike Christianity, Islam was from the beginning a state religion.

Lands influenced by Christianity began to see the value of individuals choosing their own religious communities or no community. Christianity was a religion of the heart, not of an external state. Christianity shook off the shackles of Christendom.

When a religion—any religion—begins to force itself on those who wish to believe otherwise, that religion begins to lose its moral authority. When religion must force itself onto a society, it has failed.

Our New Science: “Science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

Observers have noted the removal of the term “climate change” from certain government websites. According to reports on CNN (December 8, 2017), even a story about progress made by the Environmental Protection Agency in their use of renewable energy has been scrubbed.

Are we to conclude that the use of renewable energy is some kind of harmful practice?

Apparently, many terms are joining “renewable energy” as forbidden words.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “evidence based” or “science based” are also verboten. (Lena H. Sun, Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, reported in The Seattle Times, December 17, 2017)

Findings of the CDC now aren’t “evidence-based” or “science-based.” Its recommendations are based “on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

Does that mean even if scientific studies point to a certain practice being harmful, they are not going to be reported if they offend a community? Whether something offends “a community” is now going to be our standard?

And which communities will be considered?

If reports citing harm caused by the burning of fossil fuels offend the community of oil and gas companies, are those reports not supposed to be published?

Might we suspect that communities of the biggest political donors will be the ones considered?

Holiday Libations

Writers and other artists have a reputation for drinking a lot. Maybe the artistic culture has more drunkards or maybe its members just write more about it.

Szilvia Molnar, a publishing professional, wrote about the importance of drinking within the writing/publishing world. ( “On Book Publishing’s Drinking Culture,” Literary Hub, 6 December 2017)

Though Molnar has no problems with drinking per se, she said she recently recognized “while it’s not been difficult for me to turn down a drink when I’ve not wanted one, it’s only recently that I don’t feel embarrassed by not drinking at all.”

It’s a high school mentality, she writes, that one must have a drink in order to fit in.

She indulges in a few whimsical imaginings: “ . . . what if we incorporated a little nonsense juice-bonanza into our social events? What if we performed delicate tea ceremonies or got really wild and crazy about latte art? Or ended a reading with a meditation rather than an open bar?”

Caveat: Like Molnar, I don’t have a problem with responsible drinkers. I don’t drink alcohol for a number of reasons, one being that breast cancer has appeared in many females on my mother’s side, and studies indicate that drinking alcohol may increase the odds of developing it.

Besides, I fulfill two services to society. One: Recovering alcoholics don’t have to stand out for refusing to drink if I’m around. Two: I’m always available as the designated driver.

How Many Pieces of the Economic Pie Do You Get?

Among rich nations of the world, “The top 1 percent in the U.S. own a much larger share of the country’s wealth than the 1 percent elsewhere.”

Christopher Ingraham quoted that statistic in a Washington Post article. (“Wealth gap widens between rich, everyone else,” reprinted in The Seattle Times, 10 Dec 2017.)

To aid our understanding, Ingraham proposed an illustration: Represent all the citizens of the United States as 100 people, divvying up an economic pie that is cut into 100 equal pieces.

Most Americans do not want a society in which everyone receives exactly the same amount—each receiving one piece of the pie. Most want more rewards going to those who work harder, for example.

Ingraham quoted a survey to find out how people thought such a pie should be divided. The survey asked respondents to divide the population into five groups by descending order of income. Then they divided the 100-piece pie among the five groups according to what they thought was fair.

Results: The wealthiest 20 percent of society would get nearly one-third of the pie; the next group about a fifth of the pie; the third group also would receive about a fifth; the next group would get 13 percent of the pie; the bottom group would get 11 percent.

In other words, “. . . the most productive quintile of society would amass roughly three times the wealth of the least productive.”

In fact, Ingraham writes, the top 20 percent of Americans own 90 percent of the pie, not 33 percent, as suggested by survey respondents as ideal.

The next 20 percent divide eight slices among all their members.

The middle 20 percent split the last two pieces of the pie.

The next group gets no pie.

The last group owes pie—they are pie debtors.

Do our tax policies favor or discourage a fairer division of the pie?

War on Newspapers

Can Americans be led to doubt responsible journalism? One group’s aim is to make it as hard as possible for traditional newspapers to do their job.

James O’Keefe is the founder of Project Veritas. The organization’s purpose appears to be the decapitation of mainstream news media through feeding them false stories and hoping they will accept them.

Recently, a woman tied to Veritas tried to peddle a false story to The Washington Post about her supposed sexual relationship to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. The paper performed checks on the woman’s stories, found them questionable, and refused to publish her accusations. That is what responsible news media do.

Being human, they do sometimes make errors. When brought to their attention, however, they admit their errors and correct them. They are not in the business of spreading rumors but of bringing truth to their readers.

It is doubtful our representative government can survive without them.

Play Nice with Dictators

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary has veered in the direction of dictators, including those in the former Soviet Union. Taking a page from their books, he has attempted to control Hungary’s independent news media.

When an official of the United States embassy in Hungary, David Kostelancik, criticized such actions, a former Florida congressman, Connie Mack IV, complained that Kostelancik was interfering in the affairs of a U.S. ally.

According to Thomas Melia, writing in The American Interest (“The Diplomat vs the Lobbyist,” November 23, 2017), Mack appears to be a lobbyist for the current government of Hungary. His attacks could be another example of attempted foreign influence on U.S. policies.

Two other congressional representatives, Andy Harris of Maryland and Dennis A. Ross of Florida, have begun a draft letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with complaints similar to Mack’s about Kostelancik.

Writes Melia: “After most of a year during which the President has consistently denigrated the State Department, our diplomats and diplomacy itself (‘I’m the only one that matters,’ he told Laura Ingraham this month) . . . it is time to celebrate the patriotic Americans who are serving on the front lines abroad—people like Dave Kostelancik, who speak for our nation’s values and interests, not for dollars and cents.”

Capturing Time; Freeing Time

“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

We walk a fine line, some of us do, between wasting time and constricting time.

A properly scheduled life boots us from too much laziness. On the other hand, a time too constricted prevents us from the idle moments we need to wander and imagine and recuperate.

I’m a morning person. I spend a lot of the morning writing. Then the afternoon traps me. Neglected tasks stare me in the face, the tasks I need to do but hate.

Well, why not work on those tasks in the morning when I’m more enthusiastic about life in general and save writing, which I love, for the afternoon?

Because I end up bypassing the writing. By afternoon the demands of life have captured me, and I can’t return to morning’s freshness, when my imagination leads.

So, I set out an afternoon schedule: a group of chores from which I can pick one, or on good days, two. Enough time for exercise.

But—some days, or afternoons, I laze and do what I want. No hard and fast rule about them.

Perhaps I can incorporate the quote attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr: “Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

In other words, to know when to push and when to let go.

Taxes: It’s Complicated

My economic training is limited to one basic economics course I took in college. I think it was part of the core curriculum, like Algebra I and World Lit.

I, like many Americans, struggle to understand our economic system. How do we collect the taxes we need for supporting our military, and protecting us from harmful drugs, and running air traffic control systems, and guarding cyber security and social security, and a thousand other programs needed by a developed society?

I turn to studies and articles by economists who’ve studied our taxing systems. A number express concern, even alarm, at the steadily widening differences between the income of a wealthy few and everyone else. (Thomas Piketty, Wealth in the Twenty-First Century, among others.)

Tax plans now before Congress call for tax cuts. But, according to a former official of the Reagan administration: “There’s no evidence that a tax cut now would spur growth.” (Bruce Bartlett, “Reagan Adviser: Tax cuts, set the stage for an all-out attack on welfare state,” The Washington Post, 19 November 2017).

Other economists, such as Paul Krugman, agree. They warn against the tremendous deficits the currently proposed plans would cause.

Bartlett questions why those politicians so concerned in the past about deficits now seem unconcerned with prospects of massive deficits. Those deficits seem likely if one of the current plans passes, calling for cuts to many taxes paid by the wealthy.

Exactly because of those deficits, Bartlett says, the plan will create “a deficit so large, something must be done about it.” With deficits growing, politicians then can insist on cuts to the government programs they despise, including Social Security and Medicare.

It’s a back door way to eliminate programs popular with the American people. The wealthy, of course, don’t need those programs.