Category Archives: Res publica

Politics.

The Big Disconnect

Diane Rhem had a fascinating and timely show on yesterday, discussing the book The Big Disconnect with its author, Catherine Steiner-Adair.  She proposes, rather simply, I thought, that screen time affects our neurology and our interactions with others, and that therefore we should consider carefully the effects of screen use, especially for younger children.  Based on my own experiences, both raising children and teaching, not to mention in my own social life, I thought she was right on track.  What really amazed me was the backlash she received in the comments. It really brought home to me how desperately we are attached to our “devices”. I suggest listening, it will be an hour well spent.
And I do realize the irony of my blogging from a tablet to point out the dangers of technology and children. When we start our Catholic Worker paper, maybe it will be different. In the meantime, I guess I’m using what’s available. And I would like to note that I stopped this post in the middle to make breakfast for Samantha. Which was a struggle, because I wanted to finish. And now Clare is up, so I’ll be signing off. Check out the show, though. I will be hunting down a copy of the book.

And a post script – After grocery shopping and lunch, it took three more interruptions to check that what I wrote earlier actually made sense. Which is why the title of this blog is what it is. And the link is below, in case the one at the top of the post has issues. Still not trusting this tablet completely.

http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2013-08-14/catherine-steiner-adair-big-disconnect

Bread is never just bread

So I’ve been doing most of my own baking for a few months now (hard to justify the expense of inferior store-bread, when I’m just at home all day doing, well, you know…at-home things).  And as I was clearing up lunch yesterday, including Lucy’s half-eaten sandwich, it occurred to me that I was somewhat offended that she would blithely toss out a whole slice of the bread I had kneaded by hand the day before.  How dare she be so wasteful of my hard work!
Which got me thinking, of course, about how much food we throw away in our family, and in this country in general, and how little it concerns us.  And how much the great distance (both physical and psychological – do you think about the provenance of that beef?) between us and the source and manufacture of our food has to do with this lack of interest in the end that meets so much of our food.  (Today’s Latin lesson – manufacture = “made by hand”- how often is that true of anything anymore?)
What real connection do I have to that fast food hamburger, or even to the canned soup I merely heat up for dinner?  I rarely think twice about clearing those leftovers from the fridge to the trash can.  But it seems that the more involved I am in where my food comes from, the closer I am to the “ground” of the process, the more meaningful eating, really being nourished by my food is.  And the more I care how it is used.  Or not, as the case may be.
Another argument for slow food and the simple life, I guess.  Add it to the pile.  Maybe we’ll actually get close to those ideals some day!
And, all moralizing aside, at least I’m starting to make some really good bread.

Are we awake?

I fear it may be time for this blog to head off in a different direction. This should be a good thing, since it might encourage me to get back to writing. We’ll see.
My eyes are being opened and my heart is being broken, and I need space to work through some of this. I’m hoping this space will fill some part of this need.
Craig and I have been participating in a group through church called Engaging Spirituality. The program seeks to deepen participants’ faith through a group process focused on prayer and social justice.It has been challenging, to say the leastparents , and we are discovering just how much growing we still have to do.
Craig’s parents have been kind enough to watch the girls through all these meetings. As I was driving to their house to drop the little ones off, I witnessed this scene.
We were at a red light, waiting to make a left turn. To the side of the oncoming traffic, also stopped for the light, a man was walking up and down with a sign. I couldn’t read the sign, since his back was to me, but I’ve seen this man, and his friend who was sitting on the bus bench, before, so I know the sign said something to the effect of, “hungry”, “please help”, “anything helps”, etc. You know the signs as well as I do.
In the far lane from the man, a police car was stopped for the light. I noticed the blue lights flashing, and the officer flinging his door open and stepping quickly out of the car. He called to the man with the sign, and waved him toward him. Between the two rows of cars, there was a conversation which I couldn’t see much of because of the cars between me and the two men.
I don’t know what was said. Maybe the officer warned the other man to be careful in the traffic. But I doubt it. The officer looked irate. There was violence in his movement. When they were done talking, the man slunk over to the bench, sign gone or put away. The officer stormed back to his car, ripped the door open, and got back in.
Our light changed.
The whole scene might have taken a minute. I was shaken by what I witnessed. Craig checked when we got home – there is no law against pan-handling which applies to that part of the city. What could the officer have said to this man? Maybe he knows him well, has picked him up in the past for something. I don’t know. But what I saw, what my heart and my gut saw, was ugly.
These men are already down. What good does it do for this officer to get out and further embarass and belittle them in the middle of stopped traffic? There was no kindness or concern for the plight of fellow human being visible in the officer’s body language. There wasn’t even pity. There was contempt, self-righteousness, anger, disgust, and, as I realized laying awake in bed tonight, violence. I do not feel safer for the action this officer took. I feel embarassed. My initial thoughts were, “How could we?” and “God help us!” Where is our compassion as a society? Why do we insist on alienating and hurting our most vunerable?
And I drove away.

January 25, 2010 – Church and State

In the space of an hour tonight, the girls’ imaginative play included two hilarious and touching games.  The first was “Mass”, complete with Goldfish and water intincture for communion, the girls taking turns as priest, and a fantastic version of “Hosanna to Jesus the King” of Lucy’s own creation.

When that was finished, Lucy announced that we were going to do what the man on the computer was doing (Craig was watching the State of the Union): she would stand up and talk, and we would all clap.  The speech sounded roughly like this: “Blah, goobdy-glah, ookie jimbas.”  It was quite hilarious.

Breast-feeding support, from the Beltway!

This is one of the best things I’ve seen come out of the government in a long time.

http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/breastfeeding/calltoactiontosupportbreastfeeding.pdf

The Surgeon General has issued a “Call to Action in Support of Breast Feeding”, which (from my quick look) is pretty sweeping in its arguments for giving mothers more breast feeding support and in its suggestions for how to do that.  It’s a long read, and a lot of it is common sense (but apparently somebody has to say it – it’s not happening otherwise!) but there are a couple of parts worth looking at.

I’m particularly excited about pages 43-45, which suggest that formula companies ought to back off with advertising and giving of free samples, and that doctors should clear their offices of advertisements, free samples, pens, and the like which promote formula usage.  What happens when the hospital sends a new mother home with no support and a free sample of formula?  End of breast feeding.  I don’t dare to expect formula companies to stop advertising in “Parenting” magazine and the like, but I sincerely hope these recommendations are put into effect immediately, at least on the part of health care providers.  We have been watching Similac commercials in the OB’s office for the last few weeks, and I would certainly not miss them.  (If only they would do the same with prescription drug advertising, particularly contraceptives…but that’s another long discussion!)

The other exciting part is the call for employers to expand paid maternity leave and opportunities for mothers to nurse or pump at work.  (See pgs. 50-53 of the PDF.)  With as many women working as there are today, this would make a huge difference in how long many of them are able to continue breast feeding.

So it’s nice to see that somebody in D.C. is doing something that might just be worthwhile.  The hitch, of course, is that most of the actions recommended are voluntary, so there is still a ton of grass-roots work to be done.  But maybe this will open a few eyes to what they could be working on, and it certainly gives mothers a new tool for discussing these issues with their employers and health care providers, who tend to care about these sorts of documents.

It wasn’t a VW bus, was it?

“There was a time when good academic qualifications guaranteed a job, but not any more.  One reason is academic inflation.  In the next 30 years, more people worldwide will be gaining academic qualifications than since the beginning of history.  But as more people get them, their currency value is falling sharply.  A university degree used to be an open sesame to a professional position.  The minimum requirement for some jobs is now a Master’s degree, even a PhD.  What next?  But there is a second problem.  Many companies are facing a crisis in graduate recruitment.  It’s not that there aren’t enough graduates to go around; there are more and more.  But too many don’t have what business urgently needs:  they can’t communicate well, they can’t work in teams and they can’t think creatively.  But why should they?  University degrees aren’t designed to make people creative.  They are designed to do other things and often do them well.  But complaining that graduates aren’t creative is like saying, “I bought a bus and it sank”.

-Ken Robinson, Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative

16-year-olds are people too?

“There is a natural and accepted view that one of the main purposes of education is to prepare young people directly for a place in the labour market.  Obviously, general education should do this.  But there are two complications.  First, thinking of education as a preparation for something that happens later can overlook the fact that the first 16 or 18 years of a person’s life are not a rehearsal.  Young people are living their lives now.  What they become and what they do later depends on the attitudes and abilities they develop as they are growing up.  Linear assumptions about supply and demand can and do cut off many potentially valuable and formative experiences on the grounds of utility.”

-Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.  (emphasis mine)

Merton on Materialism, or, Merry Christmas to All

Now that you’re probably basking in the post-Christmas pile of, well, stuff, (as we are) here’s a little Merton to make you feel good about it all.  Or not.  If you don’t want to possibly feel guilty or depressed, don’t read on.

“It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness.  And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money.  We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.”

Seven Story Mountain

And this was published in 1948!  What amazes me is, we’ve somehow managed to keep it up for this long!

Louisiana Sweet Oranges…or not

My heart is broken.  The six (and only six) oranges left on the tree we planted last year are gone.  We weren’t really expecting any the first year, so we were really excited when we had a ton of buds, then hundreds of tiny green oranges, which diminished slowly until eight were left.  Two split and we removed them.  And when I went to check the one that had started to turn yellow this morning, they were all gone.  Even the ones in a bunch that I contrived a pvc-and-rag contraption to hold up since they were too heavy for the little orange tree branches.

What’s funny is, this weekend I was saying how I’d like to plant a fruit tree in the front yard for people to take from as they pleased.

But not the tiny little tree in our backyard, not our first-fruits!  Not all of them!

Am I being selfish?  Part of me says, “Share!  Why do you need those oranges, when you have a basket of Satsumas that were given to you?”  But I really, really, really wanted to taste those oranges.  They could have left us one!

I’m telling myself that if I had a huge tree overflowing with oranges, I wouldn’t have even noticed, much less minded.  But they’re all gone.  Maybe next year there will be enough for us to get some.  But I don’t want to wait another year!  It makes me wonder about people.  Harumph.  And then I just feel bad for being grumpy.  It’s not fair.

They Must be Bored

This is the email I received from one of our senators today:

“Dear  Friend,

I was outraged when I found out the Obama Administration  wanted to give Guantanamo Bay detainees  the H1N1 vaccine while millions of Americans – including  pregnant women and children – are still waiting  to get the H1N1 vaccine because of massive shortages.

Swine flu is a very real concern for all of us across  the country.  Currently, the H1N1 vaccine is only being provided to  certain high-risk segments of the population.  The vaccine is in short supply,  and, as such, there are millions of Americans in these high-risk groups still  awaiting the vaccine.  We should save the vaccine for those who need it  most, and as of today, women, children and other at-risk individuals should  fall squarely in line under that category.

Last week I introduced a Senate resolution with  several of my colleagues asserting that the Obama Administration should not  provide Guantanamo Bay detainees and terror suspects with the H1N1 vaccine  before the H1N1 vaccine shortage is addressed and all American citizens  prioritized as vulnerable to H1N1 have the choice to obtain the H1N1 vaccine.

Rest assured as your Senator, I will keep fighting so that terrorist suspects and detainees do  not jump to the front of the line while millions of Americans vulnerable to  H1N1 are waiting to take the vaccine.
Sincerely,

David Vitter
U.S.  Senator”

And this is the letter I wrote back to him:

“I would like to express my disappointment that you would waste public time and money by introducing a resolution to keep Guantanamo Bay inmates from receiving the H1N1 vaccine ahead of American citizens.  While I, too, would like to see all those at high risk from the various strains of flu provided with access to vaccines in a timely manner, squabbling about less than 300 vaccines does not seem particularly helpful to fulfilling this purpose.  Furthermore, I think we must keep in mind that inmates in prisons are most certainly in the “high-risk” group.  In fact, because of their close proximity to other inmates, guards, and other staff, those in prisons are, because of their incarceration, automatically at greater risk, regardless of their personal health.  Further, those at Guantanamo are not criminals; they are suspected of terrorist leanings and activities.  It is bad enough that they have been held so long without proper trials, will we now deny those who are at our mercy access to simple preventative health care?  By taking them into our prison, we, the American people, have taken on the responsibility for their health.  If we want to continue to claim the moral high ground (if that is even possible anymore!), I think it is necessary to show that we are willing live up to just these sorts of responsibilities.  In the future, I, as your constituent, would prefer you focus on bringing affordable healthcare to all Americans, rather than wasting time trying to deny it to a handful of people under our care whom you think are not worthy of healthcare.”

It really bothers me that people can be so self-righteous about making other people suffer.  Vitter is saying, “These guys don’t like us, so let’s let them get the flu and die.  That’ll show them!”  His web site brags that he and his wife are lectors at a parish in Metairie.  Sigh.