Fed up with the mean and the nasty

That’s it! I’m fed up with mean and nasty, greedy, self-entitled, self-serving, destructive, endangering, fear-mongering, discriminatory, hateful actions and the people who own them. And I’m tired of malice getting a pass from kind and decent people who know better but don’t call them out and say, like social Super-nannies, “That’s unacceptable!” I am also fed up with hearing that all humans are basically that way, because I have many friends and colleagues who are brave, creative, dedicated, brilliant and kind-hearted, and who prove otherwise. Yes, I know! I am REALLY lucky that way. (If you don’t, you must get out more!) If there is matter and anti-matter, they are the antidote to malice – the anti-nastiness  people!

So why write about this contrast? Well,  first to point out bad behavior as such and make fun of it, ridicule it and shame it in order to shake the idea that mean behavior is okay. I prefer laughing at problems rather than crying, loud swearing, rude gestures or throwing things, not that i’m completely above those.  I’d like to build on the art and tradition of survival humor – Native American,  Irish, and Jewish cultures include real masters, and i am but a humble admirer. When you laugh at bad stuff, even terrible stuff, you diminish its power.

Second, I want to suggest responses – mostly productive, but perhaps sometimes just venting. Some responses we should just share amongst ourselves. And third,  for general relief and inspiration, I’d like to feature people doing great stuff – acts of kindness, intelligence, generosity, courage etc. The list is longer than you think. And i will try not to get sappy, but sometimes it’s a good sappy, and we can all get a little verklempt and feel better about the human race in general.

So welcome to my little world of outrage and giddiness, fist-shaking and teary-eyed empathy, bleeding-heart liberalism, under-dog cheering, absolute wonder, worry about the fate of the planet, strongly-worded letters and warm-fuzzies.

And mean people, watch out. Nice people are not all doormats.

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The Three R’s and Food

Wow! There is so much to worry about regarding food and water these days, and it’s not just the cost. Of course biofuel demand is driving up prices at the same time this year’s weird weather makes growing food an especially tricky sort of roulette of planting dates, exposure to heat and wind, water availability, shifting pests, etc. and the global commodity market sells and ships food to the highest bidder, however far away and overstuffed they might be. Restaurants and processed foods folks are passing along those costs to you, but perhaps not sharing all the (honest) information about what’s in there in terms of calories and other negatives vs nutrition value. I saw donation bags at Safeway, where you can buy a bag of groceries for a family for $10, and all of it was highly processed and unhealthy stuff that read like a list of commodity foods delivered to Native American reservations (that produce what is called “commod bod”). No wonder America is over-weight and people come to believe only wealthy elitists can afford healthy eating. Pretty soon they’ll be giving poor people “soylent green“. Meat has been making an oversized carbon footprint for its nutrition value, while abusive big ag has been trying to keep nosy photographers out of their unhealthy and cruel practices via the “ag gag” bill. Mining, drilling, and fracking as well as pesticide-laden and concentrated-livestock farming are sending nasty chemicals into our water supplies, fish populations are disappearing, hydro-dams obstruct living waterways from going about their business and all this even as both floods and droughts wreak havoc. Coca Cola and Nestle are buying up sources for bottled water as if they were the kind of people who should be in charge of something as pure and vital as water. So i end up carrying my jug over to the market to fill it up, as if i were going to the village well. I’m going to have to learn to carry it on my head, just to see if anybody gets my point. Never mind the effects of disastrous water pollution, like the monster islands of plastic garbage, the BP mess du jour or Fukushima nuclear meltdown, or hydro-fracking that turns your water flammable… Let’s not even go into the labor abuses involved, making bad karma another invisible ingredient It’s overwhelming. Well that’s it, then, we’re going to have to give up eating and drinking. Or quit reading the news. Certainly you mustn’t read the news while eating or trying to drink water.

It does seem like some soulless, short-sighted greed-heads conspire to make money by wrecking our food and water, and that we are helpless to stop them. How did they become so monstrous? What jolt of electricity turned these corporate and civic decision-makers into myopic Godzillas? I suspect their lopsided intellectual development – where the part of their brain that forms justifications for doing bad stuff  grossly outweighs the social conscience and long-term vision side. The greedy, fear-mongering, power-crazy lizard-brains have run amok.

They have completely lost sight of the Three Rs – respect, reciprocity, and responsibility. Any gardener lives these daily. The gardener and garden take care of each other mutually, make their own considerable contributions, thank each other with gifts. Ag-industry seems to ignore these principles that sustain life on this planet.

But wait! The garden is popping up green peas, and seed catalogs are arriving, and almond trees are in bloom, and i just got seeds for a new variety of squash and a super hot chili pepper, and, and, and… Ridiculous optimism springs up wherever we can work hand in hand with the earth, take care and nurture, do something for our own well-being and the world around us. Take responsibility, reciprocate, and feel down deep respect and gratitude. Yes, you grow your own optimism. And yes, growing your own food is probably the most radical, substantial individual thing you can do to push back the food-related nasty, crazy business out there. Now go plant something!

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No news is good news

I am taking a week off reading news stories, a news fast if you will, in part to ignore things that just make me mad and in part to see what i get done when i stop wasting time on things i can’t do much about. Sure i’ll read the funnies, the truest part of the newspaper, and Dear Abby, check my email and look at Facebook friends’ vacation/pet/kids pictures, wish them Happy Birthday, maybe check out a funny dog video. And finding out that Amy Winehouse passed away was as unavoidable as her own sad demise. I’m not becoming a digital hermit, after all.  But i’ve been watching the news constantly since the Watergate era (which seems small potatoes compared to today’s outrageous meanness and scale of damage), and i suspect that there is a mental or character equivalent of toxic baggage from environmental pollutants and junk food. I’d like to see some sort of brain scan test to see what following the news does to a person.

There is some part of reading the news that is everyone’s civic duty as participants in a democracy. If the public doesn’t stay informed, then our voting is pretty silly. Oh wait, lots of people ARE uninformed, don’t think critically and vote silly. I have a neighbor who said she just couldn’t vote for John Kerry because she couldn’t stand the idea of two men kissing. (Apparently, she thought he was in favor of gay marriage and also thought she was empowered, via the presidential election to decide who kisses who.) And lots of folks voted against Obama because, you know, he’s a Muslim from Kenya. Okay, well, to be more specific, watching and reading the news with some critical thinking is good for democracy.

And then there are the specific issues, where you want to write smart, strongly worded letters to your representatives, sign petitions, possibly join a huge demonstration  that may or may not sway the government. Clearly the 1 million people who protested around the world on the same day to stop the US going to war in Iraq fell on deaf Bush-Cheney-Rove-Carlisle Group ears. Which means that they didn’t do their part in a democracy, even if we did. And there is something restorative in finding 80,000 other news-junkie peaceniks filling up Market Street in San Francisco with thoughts of global humanity and pacifism, camaraderie, and really clever signs. (The best, referring to Bush having choked on a pretzel, was a giant pretzel shaped like a peace sign. Okay, maybe that’s a little mean, but fair.) And there’s nothing better for a cause than solid information, history and data backing up the good hearts and strong principles. Not to mention that many causes revolve around people who are disadvantaged or  in remote locations, and the ability to spread news and create alliances to defend themselves can be a matter of life and death. Those depend on  news-sharing networks. So i am not disconnecting forever. Just trying to break the habit of being a knee-jerk looky-lou, the habit that can sometimes be akin to competitive gossip (i posted it first!) or social rubber-necking and is often just an excuse to start an interesting chat with friends to avoid getting productive.

So what am i doing with my newly clear thoughts and spare time? Besides playing with the birds and the kitten? Well, i finally cleared off the top of my dresser and squared away my bedroom to the point where i could vacuum all of the floor space. Next a little carpet cleaning and later check the garden. But i am actually writing, gathering my thoughts and making something out of them – right here, this stuff – and working up to finishing an article and after that an outline for a book. And recharging my ideas and connections for my non-profit’s work.

Is news-fasting more about the excessive time and attention spent on the news in proportion to my direct involvement or about the foul mood all that creates? I mean, somehow we all drift off from important topics to look at  the latest Hollywood train wreck or the celebri-candidates that screw up 4th grade history lessons or the hypocritical affairs of the family-values scions and diddle away gobs of time rolling our eyes and exclaiming in disgust and making sarcastic comments on Facebook. But honestly, i can’t do any more about the Greek people’s economy than I can about Lindsay Lohan. Neither of them call me for advice, even if they could do a lot worse. Most of the news just makes me mildly annoyed to hopping mad – hydro-fracking and tar sands, politicians that are equal parts arrogant and ignorant, unmonitored cheap-o pipelines that inevitably burst, pro-billionaire economic policy, absolutely everything related to Monsanto and skinheads – and I don’t really want to spend so much of my day angry.

So after i cleanse my system a bit and get rid of the toxic residue left by years of a heavy news diet, i think i’ll consume more selectively, perhaps counting outrage calories or calculating how good news cholesterol – the kind that makes you do something, whether pursuing a deep understanding or actually taking to the streets with pitchforks and torches – can offset the bad news cholesterol, the kind that just drives you nuts. And only consume this stuff once a day. Then maybe i’ll have time to write something of consequence myself, create something that promotes a positive change in the world. And play with the critters, go birdwatching, garden, make zucchini bread…. stuff that won’t make the news but is important (at least to me.)

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Arizona shooting means we have become a volatile cocktail

Yes, we have become a volatile cocktail, that, if given a shake, will blow the top off and explode. Here’s the recipe: Neglected mental health problems + hate/violence-inciting rhetoric  + easy gun access = horrible results every time.

We have three problems in one here: first, our mental health system is failing young people, especially college age kids who were raised without any real challenges or responsibilities and so have no problem solving ability. So they crack as soon as they are on their own at school. Sometimes badly. Very badly.  My first thought when i saw the news was, “How did that kid get so messed up? How did a college kid’s normal interest in all the politics and culture around him turn into THAT?” Really 18 – 20 somethings are supposed to be progressive and rebellious and fearless, and i worry when i see students that are not or get all excited about an idea but aren’t intellectually equipped to develop it and innovate. The status quo needs the challenge from youth. Desperately. But what happens when a misguided version of youthful rebellion combines with other struggles (like just getting through classes and a job) and mixes with inflammatory rhetoric? Kids need to be raised with stronger, more resilient, more self-sufficient minds.

Second, we have parts of the country and part of our culture that glorify guns. TV heroes resolve their problems with guns, right? They say “guns don’t kill people”. Of course not. People with guns kill people. And people with semi-automatic guns kill lots of people. Our constitution does not – in spite of what some claim  – guarantee that everybody, no matter their intent and mental stability,  can carry a gun. Read it. It says we have a right to form a militia (which would imply guns in a stockade unless there was a threat. And proper training in a group, where someone who is off kilter might be taken aside.) But when you can get guns at your local box store, even if you are on serious psych medication…well, some people do. And then some people use them. How is it possible that a person who acquaintances label as “a fringe person” or “unstable” can walk right up and get a semi-automatic weapon? Those things have nothing to do with protecting yourself (or your livestock, or your fledgling democracy). They are meant for a big spray of destruction, but apparently even unstable people have a right to widespread destruction if they want it. Who is the person who looked this messed up kid in the face and sold him a gun anyway? Wanting to make a profit and wanting to get votes from the NRA seem to be more important than public safety. Are the tea-baggers and GOP folks now thinking that next time the pyscho could be on the other foot? If not they will have to claim the domestic political terrorists as their own!

Third, we have allowed violent, hateful rhetoric into our political system without censure. I’ve always thought that violence is the recourse of a person who thinks they have run out of other solutions. People with little creative problem-solving ability (okay, i’ll say it – people who aren’t smart)  believe they have run out much sooner than others. And politicians and media bobble-heads who use violence even as metaphor have no real solutions to offer, so what good are they? Yes, i mean Sarah Palin and all the other celebrity hate-mongers who whip up our meanest, most prejudiced, citizens and confirm that their nastiness is all-American mainstream. And i KNOW that they do it because some big portion of their constituency is  made up of gun-totin’, racist, homophobic, bible-thumping, government-fearing, sweatshirt-bedazzling… well, you know the demographic. The ones who first were angry about Obama’s minister and then insisted he is a foreign born Muslim. The “leaders” are opportunistically appealing to the worst part of our national character because there is a lot of it.

Bigotry and discord are one thing – everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how repulsive – but the violent imagery invoked has appealed to the least civilized members and most mentally ill members of our society. While this is mainly from the right, the left needs to stop trying to get fans of guns and vigilante-ism to like them. (Remember John Kerry hangin’ out with the NRA, trying to get votes that would never come his way anyhow? Why not pose with the Minutemen on the border or in some survivalist’s bunker?) When someone is inciting violence and whipping up irrational fears they need to be calmed down and shut down. The left needs to show that there is such a thing as having guts without guns. And we need to insist on a higher level of discourse and personal behavior.

Free speech should be the means to keep the healthy fizziness of disagreement from turning into an explosion, not a way to exploit the most volatile segment of the citizenry.

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Rounding some kind of orbital bend?

Last night I went out to see the eclipse and to stand in the cold driveway, gawking upward until my neck hurt. I saw a a shiny sliver of the full moon earlier, but clouds rolled in and blocked it out. I went back out again, foggy now, but what first looked like dense, black, low-floating clouds were really gaps in white clouds, and as these windows sailed by they gave me a momentary peek at a pink moon beyond. Meanwhile, hidden geese were flying and honking. What a winter night! And it’s nice to know many of my friends were out cramping their necks too, looking at the same event, same moon, from their own angles. (Did it look a bit like a newborn hamster to anyone else?)

A winter solstice lunar eclipse (accompanied by a meteor shower) doesn’t happen every day. Maybe we are rounding some kind of orbital bend. The last one was 372 years ago and the next in 84 years, so it’s not a nice, even cycle like those of the complex, elegant astronomy mapped out by the Mayans. But still…

So we gaze skyward, looking for some auspicious portent, hoping for Grandmother Moon to turn and gravitationally shift our course – not because the astronomy event is so significant but rather because we really need things to improve a bit right now, take a better direction. I for one feel more like those geese flapping around in the fog (and boy are my arms tired -  ba-dump-bump.)

But there has been a little bit of positive cosmic shifting going on in terms of people overcoming discrimination. It seems that some Native Americans will be compensated for stolen land and revenues, although not nearly enough to undo the cultural, spiritual, environmental, intellectual, and economic damage done. And African American farmers will finally be compensated for being denied loans. (Aren’t African Americans still getting approved for loans less than lighter toned applicants? Correct me if i’m wrong…)

President Obama announced that the US should finally sign on to the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People and also that an apology is due to Native Americans along the lines of the national apology for slavery. And even though the UN appeased some homophobic African countries by taking homosexual human beings off the protected minority list, at least the US has finally started to repeal its prohibition of openly gay people serving in the military. Good riddance. I’m not thrilled about more people of any kind being sent off to war, but I am pleased about reducing job discrimination.

Together these (qualified) improvements have made the legal rights allotted to human beings a little more universal.

Not everything has been righted for victims of discrimination.  After all, the list of offenses both monumental and subtle could, if laid end to end, probably reach from the sun, through the earth and to the moon. And the promoters of fear, hate, and inequality have met with no consequences (but let’s not be vindictive right now.) Still, there is a little constellation of improvements, a one degree axial shift, so it is an event. Perhaps it is a glimpse though a gap in thick clouds of something wonderful. And we can certainly gawk and gaze and “oooh” and “aaaah” and wonder if it means something bigger.

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