Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“Do You Have a Heartbeat?”

This morning in Pensacola the temperature was a cool 71 degrees F. and the humidity was low. It makes all the difference in the world.

“How’s your day?” I asked my friend in the pool at the YMCA, and she grimaced. “I’m off to a bad start,” she said, “I hung my suit and towel and shoes on the line outside, and after the rain last night, everything was soaked this morning.

(We really needed the rain, and we got a soaker of a storm. Today, everything is blossoming in our yard and happy, moonflowers, African Irises, Ginger, plumbago, roses – they respond to a good soaking by blooming in delight.)

I grinned at her. “Did you wake up this morning? Do you have a heartbeat? Are you breathing? Are you here at the YMCA?” I was heartless, and persistent. She laughed.

I talked about the countries I’ve lived in; how in my first African country, Tunisia, back in the day, people competed for our garbage. My cleaning lady asked permission to take glass jars with lids, to take tuna cans. She asked that I give her any clothes I didn’t want. In the Middle East, there were restaurants where people waited near parked cars to beg for the leftovers we carried. Anything. Anything would do.

Some people didn’t have a towel, much less a swim suit, or shoes to hang on a line.

We live in the midst of plenty. Even Tunisia, when we went back twenty five years later, didn’t have the poverty we saw when we lived there. We didn’t see clubbed feet, we didn’t see hunched backs, we didn’t see crossed eyes. The little villa we had lived in had a second floor. There were signs everywhere of prosperity. We didn’t see any beggars, not one.

When I get all wrapped around the axel about the state of civility in my country, about our abuses at the border, about our increasing bureaucratic hardness-of-heart toward the least of these, I need to stop and take a deep breath and spend time acknowledging how very blessed we are. It gives me strength to go on fighting.

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July 24, 2019 Posted by | Africa, Aging, Beauty, Biography, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cultural, Exercise, Gardens, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Middle East, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Spiritual, Tunisia | Leave a comment

“How Do We Cope With the Ignorance of the American Citizen?”

 

 

I had a group in town this last week, a group I loved, and the head of the GCCDC did a fabulous itinerary for them, matching their needs for information with the best resources available in Pensacola. I am proud to say that Pensacola did herself proud taking care of these visitors, giving them meetings with people who understand their particular needs and facing similar challenges. The focus of this group was governance and fiscal responsibility; I always love these subjects and learn a lot with every visit I facilitate.

The group was friendly, and made friends everywhere they went. They were superb ambassadors for their country.

I thought the group coffee was going particularly well; important topics were being discussed openly. Then one of our local participants asked one of my favorite questions:

“What about your visit to our country has surprised you the most?”

There were several answers about the kindness of the people, the beauty of the area, and then one very experienced and thoughtful delegate said “Please, tell me, how do we cope with the ignorance of the American citizen?”

By this, he was referring to the fact that although his country and our country have long been close allies, most Americans have no clue where the country is on the map, much less the serious issues and challenges which have faced this country for decades. A few might know the name of their leader.

It’s not as if we don’t have resources. We can Google anything. We can find enormous amounts of information of world geography and events. We don’t. Our schools teach a very limited amount of world geography, world history, world civilization, with little emphasis on any importance of understanding how our nation intersects with others.

His question echoes in my mind.

I once thought as more Americans lived overseas, as they travelled, as a nation our policies would broaden, become more sophisticated, more global, more oriented to the greater good.

While there are many people still working toward the goal of the greater good, I am feeling like moving forward has mostly halted; that the concept of “the greater good” has lost its compelling motivation to the reversion to a narrow focus on national interest.

I fear for the lack of international studies and understanding of global geography being taught our children, that the ignorance of today might be compounded in the citizens of tomorrow.

April 14, 2019 Posted by | Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Geography / Maps, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Jordan, Pensacola, Political Issues, Relationships, Stranger in a Strange Land | Leave a comment

Politics (ACLU) and Religion

The Psalm from today’s Lectionary readings:

140 Eripe me, Domine

1 Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers; *
protect me from the violent,

2 Who devise evil in their hearts *
and stir up strife all day long.

3 They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; *
adder’s poison is under their lips.

4 Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; *
protect me from the violent,
who are determined to trip me up.

5 The proud have hidden a snare for me
and stretched out a net of cords; *
they have set traps for me along the path.

6 I have said to the Lord, “You are my God; *
listen, O Lord, to my supplication.

7 O Lord God, the strength of my salvation, *
you have covered my head in the day of battle.

8 Do not grant the desires of the wicked, O Lord, *
nor let their evil plans prosper.

9 Let not those who surround me lift up their heads; *
let the evil of their lips overwhelm them.

10 Let hot burning coals fall upon them; *
let them be cast into the mire, never to rise up again.”

11 A slanderer shall not be established on the earth, *
and evil shall hunt down the lawless.

12 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the poor *
and render justice to the needy.

13 Surely, the righteous will give thanks to your Name, *
and the upright shall continue in your sight.

Yesterday, several news sources discussed the rapid growth of the American Civil Liberties Union; this one is from Politicus USA:

New Report: ACLU Membership More Than Quadrupled Since Trump’s Election

Thanks to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has more than quadrupled its membership, according to an article in The New York Times.

Before Trump’s election the group had just 400,000 members and most of its actions were out of the public eye.  But now, after 15 months of the Trump presidency, the membership is over 1.8 million and it has become one of the most active and visible opponents of Trump’s agenda.

Donations to the nonprofit group have also increased exponentially. The ACLU’s executive director, Anthony Romero, said that the organization has raised over $120 million since the 2016 presidential election. Before that watershed election, he said, donations had been in the range of just $3 million to $5 million annually.

Romero said that concerns over Trump’s attack on constitutional rights and civil liberties have brought a whole new generation of political activists into their group. “Until Trump most of our support came from people who have been with us since we challenged Nixon,” Romero told the Times. “Now we’re kind of cool. Cool’s not a word generally associated with us.”

The surge in membership, coupled with the massive increase in contributions, has for the first time given the ACLU all the resources it needs to fight Trump and other administration officials in court and elsewhere. They have been involved in more than 100 legal actions against Trump administration policies, including the White House’sseries of travel bans on the citizens of several Muslim-majority nations, which happened shortly after he took office.

More recently, the group has been challenging the Justice Department’s family separation policies, Trump’s voter fraud commission and the president’s reversal of an Obama-era contraception mandate.

According to Romero, his group has over 170 times taken what he calls “Trump-related legal actions” since he became president. This number includes the filing of 83 lawsuits, Romero said.

As the Trump administration steps up its attacks on refugees and asylum seekers, the ACLU has been filing class action lawsuits and also seeking injunctions to attempt to make the government stop separating families and incarcerating children. In some cases they have already been successful, and they are continuing to fight for the legal rights of people who may have been illegally detained and deprived of due process.

The large increase in ACLU membership is a good sign for American democracy. It shows that many Americans not only disapprove of Donald Trump’s policies and actions but are willing to support the fight against them. Ultimately this may be what saves our country from becoming a dictatorship and what preserves and protects the Constitution of the United States of America.

I’m one of those people. I used to think the ACLU was extreme, that was until I saw them first to man the tables offering free legal advice to incoming passengers the night Trump implemented his first travel ban. I sent my first check. I was asked why I had joined, and I told them because they are now our front line against thugs with no moral values, oppressors of the poor, led by a heartless, selfish, man who must be reined in. They sent me a sweet little ACLU pin, which I don’t dare wear in Pensacola.

July 6, 2018 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Faith, Free Speech, Leadership, Lectionary Readings, Lies, Political Issues, Values | , | Leave a comment

USA: Democracy in Decline

On Sunday, the organist played “America the Beautiful” in a minor key. It reflected what many of us are experiencing. We love our country. We hate what we are seeing.

An excerpt from an article from the Washington Post about declining democracies in the world, this part focused on the USA, land that I love:

 

Democracy declined precipitously in the United States

The United States fell 24 places in the country ranking on liberal democracy over the past two years, from seventh in 2015 to 31st in 2017. When we compare the United States’ score in 2017 with its average score over the past 10 years, the drop is precipitous and unprecedented.


Liberal democracy in the United States: changes from the 10-year average.

Experts lowered their estimates of democracy in the United States because they began to be skeptical that the U.S. Congress will rein in executive overreach. Similarly, experts lost faith that the opposition party can contribute to overseeing, investigating or otherwise checking the majority party. The U.S. executive branch was assessed as showing less respect for the Constitution and compliance with the judiciary, two indicators that the judicial branch can restrain the executive.

For all four indicators, the score for the United States declined. The downward trend in the United States is much worse than in other countries. In terms of government compliance with decisions of the Supreme Court, the United States used to rank among the top countries of the world — but has now declined to No. 48.

I remember living in Kuwait, self-censoring my blog entries so I wouldn’t be expelled from the country, even blogging under a pseudonym. I think of the ICE officer who resigned, and was visited by law enforcement as he gave an interview to national news explaining why he (and others) were quitting ICE, disgusted and disheartened by the un-American practices they were being forced to engage in to export “illegals.” Yes, we still have freedom of speech, but we also look over our shoulders, now, never sure what new low will strike next.

July 5, 2018 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Interconnected, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | | Leave a comment

AdventureMan Resists

different races of people clipart
clipartxtras.com

 

AdventureMan is hollering from his office to mine “Can I read you something?”

We all find ways to express our indignation. He writes directly to our president, our representative (he calls him Trump’s butt-boy, to me, not to him), to Pruitt. He tells them, in acceptable language, exactly what he thinks.

“I’d say ( . . . . ), but as a retired army officer, I think I am still subject to the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice),” he says, and censors himself so that he is within civil boundaries.

How did we come to this, when our own national leader lies, again and again, even in the same day, and we have come to accept this as “normal?” How can we accept his calling people who are brown, and seeking a safer, better way of life “vermin” and their countries as “s-tholes?” The unthinkable has become our daily reality. It is not only the children, separated from their parents, who are becoming traumatized, it is also normal every-day Americans who believe that the American Dream is for everyone.

I think the American president is afraid of a world in which our nation is more brown than white, which it is well on it’s way to becoming. I think the thought of losing power terrifies him. I can’t imagine any other rational reason for his behavior towards the “other,” the stranger, those he labels as enemies.

So while I am startled when AdventureMan tells me he self-censors, I also understand. The unimaginable had manifested itself daily since this man was elected, and he will stop at no ends to complete his agenda. His cronies and fellow thugs will thrive, while we drink polluted water, and watch oil seep on to our shores from the off-shore drilling. We will watch our public schools fail, and our jails overflow. My heart breaks on a daily basis, watching what we, as a nation, are becoming.

I used to think the ACLU were a bunch of wackos. When the first travel ban went into effect, and we watched the stunned travelers arrive only to be told they must go back, the ACLU had tables in the airports offering free legal services. I sent my first check that night. I DO protest, via RESISTBOT (text Resist to 50409) wondering if my voice even matters. Sending checks to those who are resisting successfully gives me greater satisfaction. Reaching out my hands to “the other” gives me greater satisfaction. Building bridges and connections feeds my feelings of resistance, that together we can make a difference.

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Character, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Faith, Family Issues, Free Speech, Interconnected, Leadership, Lies, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Relationships, Social Issues, Values | Leave a comment

Bless the Children

From today’s Lectionary readings, the Gospel reading fits the daily news. The other readings deal with obeying God and the fate of the arrogant, those who would quote God but live corrupt and vile lives. I know the current times will not go on for long; the cycle will shift and we will try to undo the evil that is being done.

All I can think of is that this is the way terrorists are created – traumatize them early. Separate families, send them in different directions. Many will never recover, many will feel insecure and unstable for the rest of their lives, and be vulnerable. Take away their hope. God forgive us. God have mercy on these families. God have mercy on these little children.

Matthew 18:1-9

18At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

6 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!

8 ‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell* of fire.

June 20, 2018 Posted by | Faith, Family Issues, Lectionary Readings, Political Issues | Leave a comment

The NRA Solution to Gun Violence: More Guns

I am livid. I am almost breathless with the shocking audacity of it. “Harden our schools.” And what does that mean, exactly?

“Harden our schools” means putting more armed people inside and outside. Arming our teachers, if Trump and the other NRA supported politicians have their way. More guns. More opportunity for fatal human error.

Our grandson goes to one of the sweetest elementary schools on earth. The thought of his teachers packing heat makes me ill. The thought of armed guards on his school outrages me.

What message does this send our children? Schools should be SAFE, fun places to learn and explore who they are and all the wonderful ideas in the world, places to learn to tools of learning. Guards? Guns? That describes a prison, not a safe, fun place to learn.

Yes, I am all for better mental health. Since the Republicans put the mentally ill out on the streets, back in the good old days of Ronald Reagan, we’ve had increased problems with crime, homelessness, and heartless policies of incarcerating the mentally ill because we no longer give them asylum. The prisons are full of the mentally ill.

Many mass killers have no prior criminal record. The Las Vegas killer was a very “normal,” if strange, man who had a lot of weapons, assault weapons.

I’m not opposed to guns. I am opposed to people owning guns that are neither for hunting nor for sport, weapons designed for killing, weapons that make a mass killer efficient.

“Guns don’t kill people,” say the NRA, “people kill people,” but killing people without an automatic or repeating weapon is a much less efficient kind of killing. While you are in the slower process, you can be attacked and overcome. Banning assault rifles just makes sense. Tightening who can own weapons just makes sense. Oregon just passed a landmark bill taking weapons away from domestic abusers, some of the smartest, most progressive legislation in the nation, passed by lawmakers with backbones and brains. You tell the parents of Sandy Hook students, tell the parents of Parkland students that “guns don’t kill people.” They will have a very different point of view to your own.

I challenge you to Google this: Mass School Shootings in the United States.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive, if incomplete record of many, not all, of the school related shootings. Some take place in school parking lots. Some target school buses. Many shooters have no criminal records, no mental health records, but – they DO have guns.

2nd Amendment rights were created to protect our country; the rights were for militia, not people with a grudge against a woman who is divorcing you, a teacher whose assessment prevented you from attaining your graduate degree, the woman who scorned you, revenge against those who bullied you, showing what a big “man” you are (not a single mass shooter has been a woman.) Owning a gun should be a privilege, not a right.

Those who know me, know I grew up with guns. The first thing we did, in the Alaska where I grew up, was to go to rifle club to learn respect for our weapons. We learned how to clean and care for them, we learned how to shoot them safely, and we learned how to lock them up. We used our rifles for hunting (we ate the meat) and for occasional target practice. We didn’t even carry them when we went berry picking or hikes in the woods; we learned to avoid bear and other dangers, to walk away. I am in favor of responsible gun ownership.

I am opposed to hardening schools as a solution to mass school shootings. It isn’t effective, and it sends a terrible message to our children.

February 28, 2018 Posted by | Alaska, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Family Issues, Florida, Health Issues, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Parenting, Political Issues, Rants, Safety, Values | 1 Comment

The Post: A Great Movie, and it Really Happened

When you are watching The Post, the story is so interesting that you can forget that this really happened, that newspapers were told they could not publish the Pentagon Papers, and that the Washington Post ultimately defied the “cease and desist” and printed, believing the First Amendment protected their rights.

Meryl Streep is perfect as Katharine Graham, who inherits the Washington Post on the death of her husband, and Tom Hanks makes a great Ben Bradlee. The sets are wonders of 1970’s decor, and oh, Meryl Streep in the frowzy seventies clothes, hilarious.

What isn’t so hilarious, what is actually painful, is watching Meryl, as Katharine, dither and constantly ask the men around her what to do. She was the first woman publisher of a major American newspaper. It was her family newspaper; her father has asked her (now deceased) husband to take it over, and she was delighted. He was the man, and women weren’t expected to take on roles of such importance. As the movie opens, she is getting ready to take The Post public. It is painful watching the bankers and lawyers talk down to this intelligent woman, painful watching rooms full of men making all the decisions, and, as the movie points out, some very bad decisions in the management of the Vietnam War.

It is also a great reminder of who we are as Americans, and the power of a free press. It is a great reminder that the free press is here to put a spotlight on that which is hidden, to help us have transparency in our government, that decisions are not to be made in private huddles, but are to be in the “sunshine” of public awareness, so that we have the ability to question, and to debate, what we want our country to look like.

We found The Post exhilarating. We found it full of hope, even in these dark times.

January 15, 2018 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cultural, Entertainment, Free Speech, Leadership, Political Issues, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

The Rules of Magic: Alice Hoffman

No, I haven’t gone silent. I’ve been busy, contacting my worthless representatives in the House and Senate, telling them to stop the thug-in-chief, to stop the carpetbaggers stripping our country of it’s resources and decency.

In response, they supported a tax cut that favors the very rich, and strips the neediest of health care that they might be able to afford. The also broke my heart by inserting a little amendment that allows for oil drilling in the Arctic, in my birth state of Alaska.

I used to write about corruption in Kuwait and in Qatar. I never dreamed I would be faced with such horrifying, outrageous behaviors in my own country. Very humbling. Very miserable.

So, when my heart is broken, I turn to books, and oh, have I found a delightful book. Alice Hoffman’s book The Rules of Magic. I’ve just gotten into it, but I wanted to tell you about a paragraph that hooks me and makes me want to stay up all night to read the whole book 🙂  This is my great escape.

 

Everyone had to leave home eventually, didn’t they? They had to set out on their own and find out who they were and what their futures might bring. But for now all Vincent wanted was a bus ticket, and when he looked at his sisters he could tell they agreed. No going back, no retreat, no settling for the ordinary lives they had been made to live every day.

Hoffman, Alice. The Rules of Magic: A Novel (The Practical Magic Series Book 1) (p. 19). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Update: I finished this book, and loved it. It was pure escape, and thoroughly engaging and relatable, although that may sound contradictory. 😉

December 2, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Counter-terrorism, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual, Stranger in a Strange Land | Leave a comment

Sexually Transmitted Disease Rate Rising

A local school district is using “abstinence only” as it’s sex-ed class guidance. Has abstinence, among any population, ever worked? Give our hormone-ridden teens some information, please! Tell them that if they are going to have sex, how to use a condom, and explain a wide variety of contraceptives which will prevent an unwanted pregnancy. How many teens do you know who are ready to become parents? Teens are greatly at the mercy of their bodies, teach them to use their bodies responsibly.

It’s not just teen-agers in the US.

One recent fact I read recently is not included in this article; one of the greatest increases in STD’s in our population is among adults 55 and older, and people in retirement homes and nursing homes. We need to get these grown-ups some sex-ed, too!

Sex diseases in US surge to record high

AFP
"All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartach," said Gail Bolan, director of CDC's Division of STD Prevention, of STDs that are passed from mother to child
“All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartach,” said Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, of STDs that are passed from mother to child (AFP Photo/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)
More

Washington (AFP) – Sexually transmitted diseases surged to a record high in the United States last year, with more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis nationwide, officials said Tuesday.

This was “the highest number ever,” said the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report released today by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most of the new cases — 1.6 million in 2016 — involved chlamydia, a bacterial infection that affects both men and women.

Gonorrhea also increased among men and women last year, but the steepest rise was among men (22 percent), said the report.

Nationwide, gonorrhea cases reached 470,000, with a large share of new gonorrhea cases among men who have sex with men.

These trends are “particularly alarming” because of the growing threat of gonorrhea becoming resistant to the last recommended treatment, according to the CDC report.

Syphilis cases numbered 28,000, a rate that increased nearly 18 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Most cases of syphilis occur among men — mainly gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

But women too saw a 36 percent increase in rates of syphilis.

There were more than 600 cases of syphilis among newborns — known as congenital syphilis — a 28 percent increase in a single year.

These syphilis cases led to “more than 40 deaths and severe health complications among newborns,” said the report.

“Every baby born with syphilis represents a tragic systems failure,” said Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.

“All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartache and help assure a healthy start for the next generation of Americans.”

Experts say despite growing concerns about antibiotic resistance, these three STDs can all be cured with antibiotic treatment.

If left untreated, however, they can lead to infertility, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants, and increased risk for HIV transmission.

“Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

“STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.”

September 27, 2017 Posted by | Aging, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Family Issues, Florida, Health Issues, Mating Behavior, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Survival, Women's Issues | | Leave a comment