Loyalty and Ego

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February 25, 2021– I spent parts of the past couple of days watching a series that dealt with issue sof loyalty, betrayal and role switching. The show, called “Luna Nera”, is an Italian SyFy drama, set in the 17th Century. It is rather Byzantine, in its plot sequences, being all over the place.

It outwardly features conflicts between the mainstream Catholic Church, of the post-Inquisition era, and a small group of Wiccans. There is plenty of virtue and vice, loyalty and betrayal, transparency and deception on both sides, sometimes with all of it coming from the same characters. In other words, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the villains.

Life can be like that, especially if those of a certain mindset see only themselves, and those who agree with them, as good and all others as bad-even making the distinction, as a priest in the show did, between those who say what’s evil is virtue and what’s virtue is evil. Thus, their basis for determining virtue wells up from each one’s ego. That, and the inability to forgive slights, leads to even more pain and suffering, for all concerned.

The parallels between the main characters in the series, and the present American sociopolitical climate are so telling, that Luna Nera could be just as easily set in Washington and Mar-a-Lago, as in the north of Italy. The Bishop/Warlock is a wirepuller of the first order and the Wiccan/Demoness has an ego that spills over into even the acts of decency that she tries to pull off. There is a pure Saviour character, who has to disguise herself, for most of the series. The rest of the cast could pass for the “Sheeples”, who makie decisions based on whatever they are told by whoever is in charge at the moment.

It still strikes me that independent thinking depends upon not being willing to have one’s ego stroked-but maybe that’s MY ego talking.

A Few More Random Thoughts

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February 24, 2021- Today was a day for accompanying a friend around Lynx Lake, which both of us found enjoyable. The lake’s water table is down, as we might expect-given our long dry spell of last year, but the water birds are already coming back- noisy ducks and showy cormorants.

I picked up two of Isabel Wilkerson’s books: “The Warmth of Other Suns”, about the African-American migration out of the South, starting in the 1930s and “Caste”, about the role of that system in the stratifcation of American society-and the true connection between that stratification and Nazism. These ought to be very insightful. I don’t see an immediate tie between “Trumpsim”, which is largely personality-based and Fascism, which has systemic goals-but there are people who subscribe to both-just as there are doctrinaire people, who also are personality-driven, on the other end of the political spectrum.

I have meditated on the mercurial nature of several people in my circle, at present. Having gotten past feeling a personal affront, when those who have been uniformly pleasant over the past several months, suddenly turn icy, I can sense that the sameness of the pandemic-driven regimen is getting to too many people, just a tad too soon. I can also sense that we are getting a handle on the disease- the “variants” aside.

Finally, just an observation: Those who act out of fear are less the problem than those who stoke that fear-and privately mimic their followers. Yes, there are people egging the masses on, who take Lenin’s view of “useful idiots.” They are the true problematics.

Memorabilia

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February 23, 2021- To start, the group of us sat in the Jury Convocation Room for 1 1/2 hours. At that point, the judge himself came in and told us that the case had been resolved without trial, and we were free to leave. He noted that the very presence of 38 juror candidates had created the energy for a pre-trial resolution. I can believe it.

The other notable event that happened in my life today was that the Title I literacy project, in which I had agreed to participate from late March to the third of May, was abruptly canceled. When changes like this happen, it usually means that my time needs to be open-ended. There is much to be done, on several fronts, so I can see that there are several options.

On the way back to Prescott from Camp Verde, I listened to an account by a young Australian woman, who has a high level of Autobiographical Memory, of her life from birth. She has vivid recollections of coming out of the womb, of learning her first words and of deciding to walk, at the relatively late age of eighteen months. I had heard of this woman, and of her ability to state with specificity what happened on any given day in her life. Hearing her speak of such events, in detail, was a marvel.

I pondered afterward, as to what her detailed descriptions could mean for language-learning, for systematic self-education and for counteracting memory loss-especially in senior citizens affected by dementia. She apparently has had the same hopes, and is working with advocates for dementia patients, with a view towards regenerating the type of neural transmissions that have made her extraordinary abilities continue into young adulthood.

Brain Research, particularly with regard to long-term memory, and its role in learning, is still in its relative infancy. I have so many questions about my own memory of things that occurred as early as my second year. Others in my family, and people I knew in childhood, have stated their own vivid memories of early years-as well as much that has happened since.

We are still using only a small part of our intelliegence.

Baby Steps to Justice

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February 22, 2021-

I spent most of today waiting for my tax return to be done. I ended up having to make a certain adjustment in my personal financial structure, so as to be in compliance with government regulations. It will end up costing the government more, in the long run, but who’s counting?

After that, I checked on my jury interview for tomorrow, and it’s still on. If I get chosen, it will likely be my first and last time, given that the pool is large and I have only five years until the cut-off age of 75. So, I will go and get at least a taste of the selection process.

Justice, at least in the human realm, is an odd thing-as everyone’s concept of it is different. Even among those who adhere to the Golden Rule, there are varying notions of what justice is, and how it ought to be applied. I have, by and large, been fortunate in the course of life events. When misfortune has happened, though, it has taken some time and effort to overcome the urge to deflect blame and to focus, instead, on how I might learn from the unpleasantry.

The lessons I have acquired and internalized, however, made today’s challenges much easier to face and the tasks brought on by them quicker to complete.

The Other African-American Diaspora

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February 21, 2021- It’s well-known that thousands of African-Americans headed to the large cities of the Northeast, Midwest and California, both during the Jim Crow Era and as a result of the Great Depression, Less well-known is the movement of people of colour to the rangelands of the interior West. Those among the Black community in the South who were looking for independence, and a chance to prove themselves as individuals, listened when lower middle class whites talked of the Wild West, of cowpunching and the wide-open spaces. Many set out for territories like Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and the new states of Colorado and Nevada. They found, at least initially, that there was not as much judgment based on the colour of their skin, and few questions were asked about their antebellum status. Both men and women found their way west, with some women establishing hotels in small mining and ranching towns. Elizabeth Smith, one of the first settlers of Wickenburg, Arizona was prominent among them, owning and operating her own hotel, the Vernetta (named for her mother-in-law) and starting the town’s first Presbyterian church. She was forced to take a subservient role, in the 1930’s, when a coterie of business people from the East Coast arrived and instituted Jim Crow laws in Arizona. Elizabeth never gave up her dignity, though, quietly reminding the New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, who engineered her shunning, that their ancestors had fought against slavery and for the freedom of all. While the Vernetta Hotel only remained open until her death in 1935, Elizabeth is once again honoured by the people of present-day Wickenburg.

The men who took on the work of ranch hands and cowpokes were treated somewhat better. Even the whites who came from the Deep South to work the range had better sense than to turn on their co-workers of colour. Here is one such Black Cowboy, offering a view of the Texas range that is not often celebrated.

The pioneering spirit burned brightly, in a good many who took the promise of “Forty acres and a mule” to the next level.

Yes, and No

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February 20, 2021-

One of my co-workers, yesterday, made the curious remark that everyone, from the age of two onward, is responsible for their actions. Yes, and no. A child needs to be taught right from wrong, from the time that receptive language can be processed. It is well to teach the child to not make excuses for one’s actions, also from the time he or she can act independently. However, to the extent that a child is dependent on parents or other adults, he or she is not entirely responsible for what happens in his/her life. This same person made the statement that the recently-retired president, a poster child for plausible denial, was a great leader. I will leave that statement to bathe in its own irony.

It is said that large amounts of money are needed, in order to bring this nation to full recovery from the pandemic-induced economic doldrums. Yes, and no. There are several groups deserving of cash infusions-among them: Workers being, or so to be, displaced by downsizing in the fossil fuel industry; workers suffering workforce cutbacks in the restaurant, hospitality and transportation industries; landlords facing economic hardship, due to the inability of renters to pay their monthly due; renters unable to pay their monthly due, owing to having been out of work; any combination of the above. There are also those, presently due to receive another stimulus check, who are not in as dire straits as the people mentioned above. (Disclosure: I am one of those in the latter group.) While we all could find a ready use for a stimulus check, at some point- and sooner, rather than later, the needs of the nation as a whole have to come first.

One of the codiciles in the American Recovery Plan is a minimum wage of $15 per hour. Yes, and no. Those at the bottom rung of the economic ladder deserve a living wage. It should be enough to allow the worker to pay a reasonable monthly rent and have enough left over, after bills are paid, to set aside savings (in fact, to follow Dave Ramsey’s advice, and “pay self first”, by setting the savings aside before paying any bills.) and to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. Such a Federal minimum wage should not, however, be buried in a fiscal stimulus package, which is supposed to be a one-off. It is worthy of being legislated and signed into law, in its own right. That such an occurrence is at all in doubt is the fault, not of the progressives who advocate it, but of the obstructionists who see their own greed stampede being interrupted.

Finally, at least for this post, there are those who call for education to be privatized. Yes, but mostly no. As a matter of fact, fiscal accountability, discipline and transparency, as many agents of the Internal Revenue Service could attest, is in woefully short supply, across all walks of life. I had to build these skills the hard way; yet many, using sleight of hand and kicking their debt cans down the road, have yet to build them at all. This applies to virtually all school systems, where adminstrative costs (including money spent on the services of Big Testing) siphon a huge chunk of the children’s money. Taxpayers, who provide the lion’s share of the funds available, rightfully expect that their assessments go to the legitimate learning of their children, grandchildren and neighbours. To the extent that charter schools can be the impetus for system-wide transparency and rectitude, long may they be part of the education scene. There is, however, no reason, save territoriality and a laconic mentality, that a public school district cannot do as much, if not more, for the good of our children than a private, or semi-private, institution,

Most coins have two sides, and some are cubes- or polyhedrons.

The True Rewards

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February 19, 2021-

So many times, on a job that pans out over several days, there are twists and turns, taking me to as many as five task-sites in the span of a day. That sort of regimen makes the work interesting and impacts several children, in a meaningful way.

Today, I completed four days in a medium-sized elementary school, mostly working with younger special needs students, one-on-one. For the most part, the work involved helping one or two students with routine academic tasks and increasing their sense of well-being. These children appreciated the efforts and were uniformly pleasant people, with whom to work.

Two others, who had been out the first three days, came back today-making for a full classroom. These two students, both mute and somewhat unsettled, somehow were comforted by my presence- and were far more amenable to following my cues and gestures than those of the regular staff.

Silent communication often allows for more bonding -especially when a troubled person senses that another inherently understands his or her essential difficulties. The two students essentially latched onto me, with little spoken communication on my part. Just seeing them focus on following rules, and want to gravitate towards my direction, was a reward equally as meaningful as the achievements of their classmates.

This may well be the last work I do with elementary level behaviorally-challenged students-as the project with which I have agreed to help, for 1 1/2 months, this spring, is primarily a literacy enhancement effort. I appreciate that my presence is valued, by educators and students, and will take their support with me, for the rest of my days. This is the true reward of being in the arena of service to children.

The Heirs of Railroad Passengers

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February 18, 2021- It is commonly known that many people who successfully escaped enslavement, from the 19th Century South, made their way to Canada, via the Underground Railroad. The majority of these folks settled in three Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The last was chosen because of its relative proximity to Maine, one of two northern termini of the clandestine route.

Although life for people of African descent in Canada was not perfect, and remains problematic in many respects, slavery had by and large been abandoned as a social construct, by the 1820s. There was no economic impetus to the system, in a country with mostly small holders as farmers.

Afro-Canadians kept many aspects of their culture, both that preserved by genetic memory of Africa and more recent cultural elements which evolved in the American South. Later migrants from the Caribbean region have also influenced this enduring cultural scene.

Here is a sharing of African-Canadian musical heritage, from someone who moved from Toronto to Nova Scotia, finding welcome among the longtime Black residents of that Atlantic province.

Conundrum

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February 17, 2021-

As many are concerned about the planet heating up,

there is snow on the beach,

at Galveston, Texas and

chilly nights in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Snowball fights were going on

at the foot of the Acropolis.

Mercifully, there is no converse extreme heat,

in the southern hemisphere,

at least not yet.

The strange thing is,

that the polar vortex comes our way

even as the arctic permafrost keeps melting

and the icebergs keep calving, off Antarctica.

We must be flexible, and adapt-

but to what?

Two Birds on a Winter Morning

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February 16, 2021-

As I was doing my devotions, this morning,

two of the ravens

who live in our neighbourhood

were perched atop a telephone pole.

They repeatedly touched beaks

and snuggled for about three minutes,

then touched beaks a few more times,

and snuggled for another few minutes.

This was the sweetest thing

between animals,

that I’ve seen in some time.

It just goes to show,

there’s no lack of love

in the world.