“Mindsets” and Poverty

“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.”

― Herman Melville

Recently, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said (during an interview on SiriusXM Radio with Armstrong Williams) that a “certain mindset” contributes to people living in poverty, that “the wrong mindset” is the product of negative parenting habits. He was speaking about what is known as “generational poverty”, where children of – one might assume him speaking of welfare recipients – see that it’s not necessary to work in order to have food, housing and cash (even a free mobile phone with free minutes) and then adopt that mindset as their own growing up and then take into their own adulthood and, in turn, pass it on to their own children.

That there is some truth in that became evident to me recently, when a certain especially important person in my life who works as a non-teaching middle school librarian related to me, that evening after she came home from work, a conversation she’d had that day with a student. 

It’s the policy of her school district that if a student loses a book, neglectfully damages equipment, or has overdue late fines, and they aren’t paid for by the end of high school, the student will not be allowed to graduate. She pointed this out to the young man, that if he planned on graduating, he (or his parents) needed to pay up a bill he’d accrued. He replied he wasn’t going to pay, neither were his parents, and that he didn’t need to graduate. When she asked him how he thought he’d ever get a job and take care of himself as an adult without a diploma, his response was that he’d just go on welfare, as it works for his parents it’ll work for him, also.

A surprising, but not shocking, attitude that vindicates Carson’s beliefs.

Carson went on to say, “I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there…and you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”

Sounds familiar; sounds like something out of the movie, Trading Places, staring Eddie Murphy in 1983.

He has a point, but it’s too simplistic. It takes an exceptionally rare individual, someone with more than a “right mindset”, to end the cycle of poverty and welfare, to succeed, regardless of what or how the parents think or live. More to the point, to succeed in this world it also requires native talent and job opportunities. (That he, himself, had the “right mindset”, intelligence and opportunity to leave the poverty he grew up in and become a neurosurgeon, is atypical, and rather naive to believe that if he could do it, then everyone can.) 

It doesn’t matter how badly one wants to succeed, if they don’t have the physical and intellectual wherewithal and opportunity, it just ain’t gonna happen. And this leads to what the good secretary calls “a poverty of spirit”, a giving up attitude, the remedy for which he says is where the government can be “very helpful…it can provide the ladder of opportunity [by providing a ‘helping hand’]”.

Just what those “helping hand” programs are, he didn’t say, but if he means programs like grants to assist first-time home buyers get loans or help with a down-payment, and Community Development Block Grants (to revitaliize economically distressed communities) – all under his department – that are slated in the administration’s budget proposal to be cut by billions of dollars, that isn’t exactly helpful.

Add to that the administration’s proposals to slash educational funding, once again allow pay-day lenders (that paycheck-to-paycheck workers sometimes need to get by) to charge the working poor as much as 400% interest, to revamp healthcare (allowing tens of millions to be uninsured), and the only “helping hand” is the one helping to keep people impoverished.

Maybe that student’s parents have the “wrong mindset”; they’re just plain and simply bone-lazy. I don’t know. And I don’t know, nor apparently greater minds than mine, what the solution to the problem of poverty is. But those who are well-housed, well-warmed and well-fed need to stop criticizing the poor and find a way to insure that everyone not only has equal access to a high-quality education, but also to a meaningful (and livable) employment. And stop putting political/economic roadblocks in their path.

That’s how I see it.

But maybe I don’t have the “right mindset”.

– Bill

Sugar Time

“If it’s not chocolate, it’s not breakfast.”

― Laini Taylor

I love chocolate, but not for breakfast. Which isn’t a problem, because I don’t like breakfast. For breakfast, that is. I do like breakfast stuff, at anytime of the day, but just not at breakfast time. Constitutionally, my system revolts – I actually get queasy – at just the thought of food first thing in the morning. It’s as if my body needs to first wake up and get moving for a while before eating anything becomes possible.

But that’s me and, as in many regards, I’m not your typical person. Most people like breakfast, or at the very least eat it every morning, probably as a habit instilled in them by their mother when they were children, or have bought into the medical/nutritional position that it should be one’s primary meal.

All to the gratification of the purveyors of breakfast food products. From the bottom of their hearts – if not their financial bottom lines – they thank you.

And what a veritable cornucopia of products there is.

For example, there are some 4,945 different types of breakfast cereals in the U.S. (up from just 160 in 1970.) 

90 percent of American breakfasts consist of cereals, pancakes, waffles, bagels, toast, muffins, biscuits, scones, croissants, and so on, and they all have one thing generally in common – they are processed grain flour, carbohydrates which, once in the gut, quickly convert to sugar. And as all of them usually have sugar (refined or high-fructose) and/or starch (another carbohydrate/sugar source) added in their processing, it is a double/triple wallop. And since most people add a topping of sugar or syrup or jam to boot, it’s a big issue. 

One reason – among many – why this is bad is because when sugar enters our bloodstream, the hormone insulin is released to process the sugar. If more sugar comes in than the insulin can handle, the sugar is stored as fat and the insulin system can be overwhelmed. Eating this stuff on an empty stomach is bad first thing in the morning as there is little fiber, fat or protein in your system to slow down the sugar absorption to levels your body can safely process. (So maybe it’s a good idea to eat at the same time some bacon or sausage for their protein and fat content, but fat is another dietary health issue. Maybe with some fruit for its fiber, although fruit has its own sugars, albeit fructose is somewhat different in the way the body processes it.)

And we wonder why diabetes – not to mention obesity – has become such a major issue, especially among the young. So what alternatives are there? 

Eggs? Sure. Most people can safely eat up to 3 eggs a day before the cholesterol they contain becomes a risk for heart disease. But they’re only so many ways to prepare them and repetition is boring. 

Anything else? In a recent article in the Washington Post by Michael Ruhlman, entitled “Is breakfast our most dangerous meal?” (from which I borrowed for this and you can read in its entirety at  http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODN/TheFresnoBee/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=FRB%2F2017%2F05%2F16&entity=Ar01800&sk=545BA034&mode=text),%C2%A0Roxanne, Roxanne Sukol, preventive medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, medical director of its Wellness Enterprise, suggests “steel-cut oats, not cooked but rather soaked overnight with a dash of vinegar. I add whole-fat Greek yogurt and some nuts if I have them — it’s a satisfying small dish.”  Sorry, too much trouble. Ruhlman adds, “Beans are great too. I had a delicious dish of lentils and a small amount of basmati rice at the new vegetarian restaurant abcV in Manhattan, the other morning, and my companion had congee [a type of porridge or gruel] made with black rice and millet, in a seaweed and mushroom broth.” To which I add, “Yuck!”

To make it easy in the morning “hit the floor and out the door”, you might as well just hand your kids some chocolate as they head to school.

They would rather that and thank you for it, and you can rest easy in your mind knowing it’s no worse than jam covered scones, syrup drenched pancakes or waffles, or cereal with a couple teaspoons of sugar on top with milk (which contains lactose, another kind of sugar.)

But if they (or you) need a pick-me-up in the morning, instead of sugar, maybe a simple cuppa or two tea or coffee (plain, of course!) Either is a whole lot healthier.

– Bill

In the Arms of Morpheus

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”

― Ernest Hemingway

I have always enjoyed sleeping. Not going to bed though, as I’m something of a night owl who enjoys the alone time, the peace and quiet experienced only after everyone else is in bed and fast asleep. And it is only then that I find my mind truly awake and active and I’m at my most creative level.

Even as a child I found it impossible to go to sleep at my prescribed bedtime and would lie under my covers, flashlight and book in hand, awake until after hearing my parents going to bed after the 11 pm news. Once I became a teenager, my parents naturally aware of my secretive bedtime behavior, allowed me to stay up with them to watch the news. It was only then could I fall asleep. And, sleep was respected in our home. No matter who was still asleep well into the morning, no matter for how long it’d been, everyone up talked and trod quietly. “They need their sleep.”

And it was the nature of sleep that I found and still find comforting. No matter what I do or what happens to me in my sleep-life, there are no lasting consequences, no recriminations from others, no explanations needed to be made, no obligations to be met; unlike in awake-life, were the vicissitudes of daily life are frought with the need to make decisions and, where wrong, tend to screw things up and make life complicated with unexpected consequences, hard feelings from others, apologies to be made and extra efforts to make things right. Like Papa Hemingway, sometimes – at times all too often – things fall apart when I’m awake. 

But what is it about sleep, do we “need” to sleep? That question was probably asked the first morning the first cognizant homonid awoke and asked, “What just happened?” Sleep has been studied ever since and nobody has yet to figure it out. We do know that, biologically, certain hormones and the like are secreted only or mostly at night and that our bodies seem to undergo a repair process to undo the wear-and-tear experienced during the day. But is there more? Perhaps survival, itself? We humans can’t see all that well in the dark, and that’s prime hunting time for predators. Carl Sagan once quipped, “The sleeping style of each organism is exquisitely adapted to the ecology of the animal. It is conceivable that animals who are too stupid to be quiet on their own initiative are, during periods of high risk, immobilized by the implacable arm of sleep.”

And what is dreaming while asleep all about? There are a lot of theories, and most revolve around the idea that our brains need a time-out to sort through the day’s events. Sagan opined, “that dreams are a spillover from the unconscious processing of the day’s experience, from the brain’s decision on how much of the daily events temporarily stored in a kind of buffer to emplace in long-term memory.”

When I read that I wondered if there might be a correlation between the amount of processing needed and the length of sleep time. My investigation revealed that Sagan also noted, “The American psychiatrist Ernest Hartmann of Tufts University has provided anecdotal but reasonably persuasive evidence that people who are engaged in intellectual activities during the day, especially unfamiliar intellectual activities, require more sleep at night, while, by and large, those engaged in mainly repetitive and intellectually unchallenging tasks are able to do with much less sleep.”

That would explain (other than the rest their bodies need for repair and physical development) why children require more sleep than adults (their everyday existance is that of learning, everything in their life is something new that needs to be processed in order to be remembered), why adults need less (much of their life is basically reptitive), and why seniors require even less (been there, done that, just about everything). 

(An article in Psychology Today, entitled “Why Night Owls Are More Intelligent Than Morning Larks” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/201005/why-night-owls-are-more-intelligent-morning-larks) shows that, “compared to their less intelligent counterparts”, more intelligent children go to sleep about 45 minutes later and sleep about 30 minutes more. And note: bed time is not a factor of when the child finally falls asleep.)

If you find youself to be a long sleeper as I am, even at 69 years old, one of two things is possible: either we are quite intelligent and are intellectually challenged by what we do during the day, or we sleep long in order to find comfort escaping those things that keep falling apart in our daily lives.

I choose to believe it’s because I’m intelligent, but maybe a little of both?

– Bill

The Subjectivity of Neutrality

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

― Desmond Tutu

I suppose one should first define a couple of words before going further: The dictionary defines neutrality as the state of being neutral, a “policy or status…that does not participate in a war…” , and war as “active hostility or contention; conflict”, e.g., “aggressive business conflict” (as in airline “fare wars”). Now, words mean what they mean, but the context they are in can change our inference to their meaning, where one arrives at a conclusion that is not logically derivable. 

Which leads to “Net Neutrality” and just what that means to different people.

Excuse the obvious oversimplification here, and I don’t mean to insult anyone’s intelligence or imply they lack a thorough knowledge of how Internet search engines operate, but just to be sure… as the Internet has grown in the number of sites on any given topic searched for, the various search engines (Google, etal) have developed algorithms (computerized sets of rules) to solve the question of where (how high or low) in their listing a site should occupy. Basically, other considerations aside, how high a site ranks is based on popularity, how many times a particular site is viewed or linked to by other sites and, obviously, the ranking becomes self-enhancing – the more a site is viewed or linked to the higher it gets in the list, and the higher it is in the list the more likely it will be viewed, moving it higher… and you get the idea. This, naturally, means that sites that are less popular, no matter how pertinent or good they are, are ranked down, even several page scrolls, and are therefore rarely looked at. Which means that they fall ever lower in ranking… and you get the idea.

So, a couple of years ago some of these lesser ranked sites decided this system of ranking according to popularity was hurting them – no one was looking at theirs – and the more influential (monied or otherwise powerful) ones complained to the big providers of search engines (AT&T, Comcast, Charter, etc.) and worked out a deal (one has to wonder just what those providers were to get from those site owners in return) where the providers could block sites from other providers in order to favor their own, or slow the connection rate to them and charge sites a “fast lane” service fee, or charge them a fee to maintain their high ranking.

Liberals saw this as starting a war on the free flow of information and public access. Some called it censorship and  extortion.

In effect, this would make the Internet just like the cable or satellite TV services – they (the Internet providers) would decide what you get to see, or you can pay extra for more – and this so incised the general public and those who believe in the freedom and right to information, that in 2015 the Democratic majority on the Federal Communications Commission established a policy that basically said, “No way, there needs to be an unfettered flow of online content.”

It was called the Open Internet, or Net Neutrality.

Conservatives see this new policy and reglations as a declaration of war on business and profits. Some call the regulations as governmental over-reach (even though a federal appeals court ruled the FCC has a Constitutional authority to regulate the Internet). They see the FCC’s action as the exact opposite of neutrality, they see it as meddling by the government in private business’.  Now that the Republicans have a majority in the FCC, they have started procedures to undo the Net Neutrality policy and regulations to allow Internet providers to do whatever they like concerning availability or cost of Internet content.

So, you see, neutrality means different things to different people. To some, as in this case, Liberals believe business’ (Internet providers) must be neutral and not limit – by any means – the right to information, whereas, to Conservatives, it means the government must be neutral and can not tell business’ what they can or cannot do.

I dare say, while every word has an objective meaning, there can be a subjective application. In this case, neutrality, within the context that it is presented and one’s political bent, can have divergent applications. But I think we all can agree that it means war.

And, to borrow from the above quote, if the elephant (as the symbol of the Republican party) is stepping on the tail of the mouse (the public, which includes you and me), I do not appreciate their application of neutrality. They are the oppressor at war with me and everyone else’s access to what should be unrestricted and free information.

And that is an injustice.

– Bill

Errant Thoughts Into The Woods

“A well hit golf shot is a feeling that goes up the shaft, right through your hands and into your heart.”

― Ben Hogan

If you’re the typical weekend golfer, like I am, you know the frustration that comes from your errant tee shots, balls flying off the straight and narrow fairway, occasionally into the trees. And while you search for yours, you inevitability find someone else’s lost ball, but never your own. Or your shot winds up in a water hazzard, where you can see it but can’t quite reach it, unplayable. Either way, you’re required to hit another shot, another attempt to hit it accurately, and taking a penalty on the score card, another stroke further from par.

And then there are those days where nothing that you attempt works, and you decide to just quit in the middle of the round and head back to the clubhouse to the “19th hole” and have a pint or two to assuage your frustrations.

There are times, just as often, when writing, that my thoughts take flight just as an errant golf ball, not straight where I intended to go, but slicing off course, only to become lost and causing me to start over. Except, unlike golf where the tee box hasn’t moved, in thinking, my mind has moved on and I can’t return to where I was in the first place and, consequently, wind up taking another direction, another fairway (if you will) until I’m so off course that I simply give up.

And as frustrating as that is, I can’t help but remember those times where, like a well hit golf shot that left that satisfied feeling in my heart, so wonderful, that I keep writing knowing that while much of it is nothing to remember, there are those times where I’ve written something worthwhile. 

Because I’ve done it before, I know I can do it, and I keep going back to re-experience that good feeling.

I will never win The Masters in golf nor the Pultizer Prize for anything I write, but that doesn’t mean I should give up trying.

And having some fun at it, at the same time.

– Bill

Reflections on Earth Day

“It’s going to take all of us, gathering our voices and acting together. Saying, “Not on our watch” to create a future for humans, animals and the environment.”

― Eileen Anglin

Tomorrow is Earth Day. It should be a day of reflection for all of us.

We can laugh in amusement or derision at the “Greens”, the tree huggers, the “eco-” this or that product’s claims, environmentalists as a whole, because of their sometimes extremisms, but don’t we – shouldn’t we – give them credit for doing the right thing, drawing our attention to what ultimately matters – should matter to all of us – the health of the only planet that we have to live on?

My sisters (one East Coaster, the other Southwesterner) came here on vacation a week ago and we took them sightseeing (and a little wine tasting) around the state. I was thinking, as we sat in a cute little train traveling through the ancient coastal redwood trees in Santa Cruz, how they (the trees, not us) were saved from extinction, from the designs of commercial harvesters who would have cut them all down for the sake of money making.

And I was thinking about it while we were all walking on the beach in the rain at Morro Bay, how great it is that that piece of coastline, like so many more on both coasts, have been kept public and not left available for private or corporate development.

Shouldn’t we all be a little more “green” than most of us are, doing something more than merely separating recyclables from the trash we set out for pickup?

In the quote above, Eileen urges us to not only act but to use our voices to speak out against those practices or policies that are harmful to the very air we breath, the water we drink, the environment as a whole that sustains our lives and all other living things.

I think that was what I was unconsciously doing when I wrote “Let Coal Go the Way of the Horse and Buggy” and published it on this blog and allowed it to be republished on Writer Beat (writerbeat.com) at the request two weeks ago of that site’s administrator, who somehow became aware of my post here (and now has been viewed by over 150 of their readers, and has thirty very interesting comments so far, compared to only 8 views and no comments on Word Press.)

Or my membership in The Sierra Club, who endeavors to preserve our natural heritage against development or human degradation.

I think, maybe, these are instances where, in light of environmental actions taken so far by the Trump administration, I give voice to “Not on my watch.”

And as the entire West Coast branch of the family joined us for breakfast with the animals at our zoo, especially when the grandchildren fed the giraffes. It was in the news the other day that it’s they (the giraffes, not the children) that are now the latest animals threatened with extinction. I pray there’ll be giraffes their children can see, perhaps feed.

Maybe it’s in my membership to our zoo, that helps fund wildlife preservation worldwide against thoughtless or commercial killings, that is my voiced “Not on my watch”.

Maybe I’m more “green” than I’ve thought.

Maybe I’ll self-reflect on that more tomorrow, Earth Day, and see how else I can better our world with my voice.

Is there anything in your mind, with respect to what’s happening to other humans, animals or the environment, where you can act or say “Not on my watch”?

– Bill

Thirty Years Of Joy Destroyed

No quote today, just a thought.

We bought our house thirty years ago. Nice house, but no front yard landscaping, just lawn that ended at the sidewalk in front and the neighbor’s driveway on one side, separating our houses. We had two young boys, they a young boy and young girl, all about the same age. All the kids got along fine and played in the two yards. We had taught ours to stay in our yard unless the other kids were out to play also, and then they could run back and forth between the yards. But, apparently, the neighbor kids hadn’t the same restriction, they’d play in our yard – as well as their own – even if our kids weren’t out to play. I wouldn’t have necessarily minded except, after having a few occasions together with their parents and listening to how excessively they focused on money. I became concerned that – if their kids managed to hurt themselves on our property – we’d probably be sued.  So I planted a row of privets between our properties and along the front sidewalk, and told all the kids no more crossing back and forth between yards, and my boys – if they wanted to play with the neighbor’s kids – to play in their yard only.

Thirty years later (and now with new neighbors), those privet plants had grown into a hedge some four feet high and four feet wide. It was a beautiful hedge that went down between the two properties and across the front of ours, ending at the other neighbor’s fence, with an opening for our driveway and walk to our door. It was a nicely maintained and shaped hedge that perfectly framed our home. I’d complain about the work it took, but whenever I’d look out our front window, or pull into our driveway, I truly loved it. And all the compliments we got from family, friends and other neighbors over the years reinforced my decision long ago to plant it.

And that beautiful hedge ended in a mangled mess Sunday evening.

A drunk driver of an oversized pickup truck – for whatever reason – jumped the curb, took out a beautiful Crepe Myrtle tree I’d planted on the island between the street and our front sidewalk, careened into the hedge, ending up parallel to the sidewalk and street, where he became stuck. In an effort to free himself, he gunned his engine, rocking forwards and back, tearing into the hedge in both directions, utterly destroying half of it as neighbors up and down the street came out, hearing a gunned engine racing, to see what was happening. 

I had the presence of mind, having my smart phone with me, to begin taking pictures of what was happening, capturing his attempt to free himself, of his face through the side window, and his license plate, until he – after many minutes – managed to free his truck and get back onto the street while my otherside neighbor was on his phone to the police.

Did he stop to apologize, share his license and insurance info, offer to pay for the damage? No. He proceeded to speed off, up the street, where he subsequently managed to strike two parked cars, only to continue to run.

But he didn’t get far. 

Neighbors, there, somehow managed to pull him from his truck and – rather forcibly (an ambulance was required) – detained him until the police arrived. (The police called it “neighborhood justice”. They frown on it, but don’t ask a lot of questions of bystanders when they arrive on the scene, apparently.)

Now I’m faced with waiting to see what will happen next, dealing with getting estimates of the damage and its removal, obtaining the police report to find out who he is and his insurance company, if I’ll have to sue, what the District Attorney is going to do….etc., etc.

And, what I’ll do with what hedge that is left. I can’t very well replant, I won’t be alive another thirty years until it’s whole again.

Thirty years of joy destroyed.

– Bill