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Archive for the ‘General musings’ Category

All My Relations

This is the theme of the blog, always, forever, bone to whimsy.

In looking at “all my relations”, some identify codes of conduct/interaction, and methodically assess their behavior relation by relation. Others emphasize spontaneity, realizing good by loving.

I do both, structured and spontaneous.

My structured inquiry is by social scale, starting from the most within, “God” if you will.

1. My relationships with the most intimate. God is usually thought of as a remote authority, a judge, a king.

Others speak of God as that which knows you entirely and compassionately, utterly without judgment, more than one knows oneself, the most intimate. “Search my heart”. My most trusted friend.

It doesn’t require belief in any manner, nor any credo, nor any association, nor any magic incantation. The most that one can do is to relax, to allow to “search my heart.

Ultimately, the only power that accrues is the personal power of self-knowledge and self-control, adopted by repeated days and days of exercising one’s capacity to let one’s reality be seen, reviewed, accepted.

Religion in contrast is an application, but religion becomes twisted if only the application is remembered and not the original humility.

2. My relationship with my self. I personally am very self-critical, with an underlying consciousness of guilt, wondering what I did wrong, when?

I forgive myself for all actions, for all shortcomings. I acknowledge my kindness, my intelligence, my physical strengths. I observe the healing of pains, the natural restoration of vitality. I acknowledge my inevitably physical mortality. I acknowledge that I can only know what one person can know.

3. My relationship with my wife, trusted and trusting good friends, my children, my mother. Close, never abandoning one another. Cared for. Clearing up when I hurt or offend in some way. Speaking up when I’ve been hurt in some way. Seeking ways to be of help. Seeking help. Checking in often. Laughing and playing often.

4. My relationship with my community. Volunteer. Friendly acquaintance. My neighbors. Conscientrious professional relationships. Helpful, and productively critical. Problem solving.

5. My relationship with my nation, with my people. Loyal and productively critical.

6. My relationship with the planet. Lightly walking. Leaving room for others.

By caring, by loving as a verb in all our relations, we create a pleasant world, rather than an unpleasant one.

Structured and spontaneous.

This is my map of a good life.

Simple, with MANY complexities in the application.

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I want to go on record. I don’t like the mandatory nature of the Obama Health Care Act. People have different priorities regarding health care. As feminists have asserted strongly that their/our own bodies are our own business, the same should apply to decisions about every aspect of health decisions. We should not be forced into even the insurance model of health care.

There is an irony (I love ironies) about the more “left wing” proposal of medicare for all. That is that, it, more than the mandatory commercial insurance model, preserves individual health care independence, as well as has elements of cost accountability, that are missing in the universal commercial insurance model.

That is that medicare pays for 80% of most medical care, and the individual is responsible for the other 20%.

That 20% is enough to effect my health care decisions. There are some tests and some procedures that I will not get. There is some accountability.

With only a fixed $20 copay, I won’t forego any procedure. The doctors want to be risk averse with other people’s money, fine.

Medicare for all is better for providing health care, period. Accountability for cost, universal coverage for preventitive and public health related care, very reduced overhead costs (due to not requiring profits, separate administrative offices, marketing, and management). The difference in costs is staggering, close to 18% of all health costs is unnecessary overhead, created by the insurance model.

On the law itself. The republicans are gleeful that the Supreme Court declared the mandate illegal if only considered via the logic of the interstate commerce clause, but not illegal is considered by the logic of the federal taxing authority.

And, by that reasoning, the republicans, including many people that are attorneys and should know much better, declared that the penalty for not getting insurance is a “tax”, and they will go to town on it.

But, the Supreme Court did not declare that the penalty was a tax perse, but that the constitutional validation was in the taxing authority.

“Section 8. Clause 1. The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

A “duty” is not a “tax”, though it is authorized under the taxing authority clause of the Constitution. A penalty is not a tax.

Mitt Romney calling it a tax. I want more integrity in a president. I also want more integrity in the press, that just went along with it.

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Aging/Learning

I am the primary support person for my mother, who lives at the Arbors assisted living facility in Amherst. She had lived in Boynton Beach, Florida until she had a small stroke, then a serious fall, then the death of her brother (a neighbor).

She found herself not able to drive in an area that it is very limiting to not be able to drive, with shrinking primary support and friend community, distant from me (only child), no contact with my two boys.

Really isolated.

Over the past few months, I’ve been running a small sub-business providing financial management services (day to day, not investments, etc.) for elders that want to remain independent but their kids largely don’t trust their judgment anymore, or at least sense the need for help.

Its a lot of contact with the elderly, after none at all for most of my life, and none with any sense of “that could/will be me”, direct source of empathy.

I’ve learned a few things.

The most important insight is that being old is NOT a period of time when one just settles in, runs on habit only, set in ways.

In contrast, like early childhood, it is the time of most frequent and most radical changes in one’s whole world, requiring learning entirely new skills to navigate the new set of capacities and workarounds.

When one loses the ability to drive, one has to reinvent one’s whole world, whole social support systems. When one loses hearing, or eyesight, similarly, AGAIN. Then, ability to walk, new whole world, way of getting through, AGAIN. Then, when one begins to lose ones memory, not only having to learn to navigate a new setting, but without the tools to do so. Like an infant has to learn what legs are for, that severe a change, requiring that radical a learning capacity.

And, finally, the action of preparing for dying and the process of dying is entirely new world, requiring learning.

Its the periods of 10 – 20 years without significant change, that people get stodgy. The elderly have to be and mostly are learners more than stodgy.

All when tired, more and more and more work-arounds, and not thought of highly.

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“Where will I find my resting place?”

From the long-term perspective of living in place over generations, most Americans are homeless.

I’ve never had a home, in all relevant respects that comprehensively was a safe haven.

My parents were certainly kind. Growing up, I had wonderful childhood and young adult  friends and neighbors, but we lived in a new suburban neighborhood, in which all of the families were rising economically (or not) and moving frequently. There were noone’s grandparents, or brothers and sisters, in the same neighborhood.

My neighborhood was a largely upper middle class Jewish ghetto, outside of New York City. There were very few traditionally practicing Jews, almost all were associated with the liberal diaspora originated modern Jewish denominations, if that. Very very few kept kosher. Very very few kept shabbos.

My grandparents on my mother’s side did. We spent a lot of time at there home. My mother’s brother lived in the same community, so my cousins and I were close. Their cousins on the other side were also close, and that family was home (when young).

The place (suburban New York) though was not home in the deep sense. Not enough trust, not enough permanence, roots, future.

Kids went to college, and almost 100% formed other lives away, most driven by where they worked, or some project that they got involved with, or some relationship that they cared about. Coming home was always an irony, internally arguing over whether to use the word “home” or not. Is this my home, or their’s (my parents). And, is it even their home (as in permanence)?

My parents sold their home in 1992. They had lived there 36 years, a long time, and not a long time at all. My father’s business suffered a downturn, and he found the property tax obligation on their highly appreciated valued house a burden, and not sufficient appeal (community) to stay.

They moved to Florida. My mother’s brother also moved to the same area, and that then served as a surrogate faux-home as well. Since then, my father died, my mother’s brother died, my mother had an illness, and we’ve moved her close to my family.

In traditional in place communities, where one’s family is buried is home. My grandparents on my father’s side are buried in Queens in a mass cemetery. My grandparents on my mother’s side are buried in Worcester, in what would be community if multiple generations stayed there. My father is buried in South Florida, where only my aunt lives currently. My mother will be buried in South Florida next to my father, but after the funeral, I probably won’t ever see the grave. I doubt highly that I will move to South Florida.

Is my home in small-town Western Massachusetts home? Its mine. I choose to be here. But, if I had to move (and I don’t mean a pogrom), I would quickly. I have friends here that I definitely care about a great deal, but they are not permanent as a family of families for generations is.

I wonder if I may perhaps be the first generation of the establishment of a new homeplace for my children and their families, but I doubt it.

My homelessness is American common homelessness. We are a nation of immigrants and of migrants (ourselves), and also a nation of alienated families. Maybe its all of the modern world, in which indigenous life is not readily possible, sufficient to cover the fixed costs of living.

We live in primarily a commercial world, not a community world. We go to where our career takes us. The economies in most locales outside of big cities, aren’t sufficiently diverse to allow for children with different interests to all make a living. They move.

We don’t form home. We don’t dig in the earth. Our families don’t stay in a locale very long.

Definitely some do. And among them, some are committed to place and continue to craft, farm, mentor. And some are just eager to cash out, selling their parents’ farms for tract house plots.

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Early in George W Bush’s administration, he coined the term “ownership society” to describe his American economic vision. It was a vague term then, opportunistically so, and remains today. At the same time, a former conservative turned “enlightened” named Jeff Gates, wrote a similarly titled book to describe a similar utopia, at least incorporating working class participation in the form of advocacy for ESOP’s (employee stock ownership plans), that were darlings of enlightened Newt Gingrich and others.

It would be wonderful if by “ownership society” they meant the sense of responsibility implied in the “take responsibility for your life” social responsiblity and new age movement. Its a great utopia if you have net worth, not so great if you are of the now majority that have net debt.

In the late 90’s, I read “The End of Work”, by Jeremy Rifkin which affected me profoundly, and continues to.

His thesis was that at some stage, less and less work will be needed socially, that the vast majority of physical and institutional infrastructure will have been constructed, and there will be less need for employment, for work in general, and implied less need for productive investment, to meet human needs.

Its an enormous institutional quandry, that is manifesting in our declining economic vitality.

His thesis implied that the economy will shift to a maintenance economy.

That thesis was a reiteration of the similar Marxist thesis that improvements in productivity would lessen the amount of required work time to fulfill human needs.

The objection to the Marxist and Rifkin thesis was that human needs continue to increase, that minimum necessities continue to increase (walking to a car now as a minimum necessity, voice shifting to a phone, to now a smartphone as a minimum “necessity”).

One other objection to the thesis is that we only see what happens close to home. So, while the fulfillment of needs in the US may lessen, that is not true of the world. As China, India, all of the former third world improve their standards of living in real terms, work is performed to accomplish that.

The quandry is that in the current world, same as in the past, work is needed to survive. Families and social attitudes have not shifted. We are still expected to work, to provide for our families.

And, in the current world in which 9+% of adults can’t find work at all and many more work in jobs that do not utilize their intelligence and skills, in the current world in which salaries and wages are declining in all fields to the extent that MANY can’t afford the prevailing cost of living, the permanent relations of class are more prominent.

We distrust each other (we find MANY ways to, even those of us that preach trust), and we don’t form commonwealth’s, in which we prominently share the benefits of common ownership. We don’t commit to our families. We don’t commit to our close friends. We don’t commit to our neighbors. We don’t commit within our communities, region, nation.

In a society that needs less work to make it through, it makes sense to form socialist common ownership relationships, that are intimate enough that the obligation to contribute to society productively is retained, that allow for significant individual choice.

I personally consider one reason that the formation of local and regional social institutions happens so infrequently, is that there is competition from federal institutions. Its great that there is an insured confident safety net. Its horrible that it is administered so remotely, so anonymously, fostering dependence rather than inter-dependence.

In Franklin County, in Windham County, in Amherst now even, the local economy is in the doldrums. While policy makers go to cities to discern that the economy is stagnating, it is true and absurdly true locally, rurally.

We’ve not shifted to a commonwealth of God-given natural resources as the basis of our rural well-being. There are no community owned forests – not even private CSF’s (community supported forests). No community owned farms.

In and efficient social-owned economy, what level of work would be required to be contributed (equivalent to a military reserve obligation), 24 hours/week maybe? to provide all of the food needs, shelter needs, heating needs, transportation needs, education needs of the community for all its public purposes?

That social reality could be instituted by a 50% tax on income beyond living wage (maybe $12/hour) that provides minimum necessities for all. Improvements to the standard of God/nature given solar income accumulated over millenia, could be privately paid for by virtue of work beyond the 24 social hours.

It could be voluntary. How would we get a cooperative society moving along?

Drops of private agreements encouraged with open non-exclusive invitations to new participants, or voluntary or mandatory institutional?

I don’t care if this sounds like the meanderings of a 22 year-old.

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Naomi Szinai

My mother-in-law Naomi Szinai died this past Saturday, of complications from an obstructed colon and of heart failure, in the Royal Free Hospital in London. She was 87.

She lived a life, a journey that we need to remember.

Her family was descended from world-renowned Torah scholar rabbis on her mother’s side (I believe). Her father’s side was also descended from rabbis, and her father had received rabbinic ordination (smicha), but practiced his career as a doctor in a town about the size of Greenfield, MA (my home town), in rural Hungary.

For the first few years of her life, she was fairly well off, middle class. Her father was one of two doctors in the town, relied on by all in the town. She had a close family. There was some anti-semitism in Hungary in the 20’s and early 30’s, with a fascist government in power, but it was manageable.

When Hitler came to power first in 1933, and then later consolidated power and began instituting persecutions of the Jews in Germany and later Austria and Czechoslavakia, Hungary was one of the independent allies of nazi Germany. Still, Jews’ life did not change as significantly. There was more social permission to express anti-semitism, and suppressive laws were introduced, and enforced more vehemently. The Hungarians did not initiate the zeal of genocide that the nazis instituted. (In 1944 though, Eichmann remarked that the Hungarians were more enthusiastic to ship the Jews out to the camps than even the Germans or Poles). Even though her father was not legally permitted to practise as a physician, he still practiced under the table and for barter (one of two doctors in a town of 20,000. Somehow they thought that it was better to have only one doctor, than two doctors one of whom was a Jew). Jews were permitted to live in their homes and partially practice their professions and own some personal property. Noone was herded into ghettos like in Poland or elsewhere.

My mother-in-law and her two younger siblings went to school, oriented to science more than religion or anything else.

In 1944, Germany grew impatient with Hungary, that their fascist government wasn’t suppressive enough, and invaded.

It appeared that they did so mostly to complete their genocide of Jews and Gypsies.

The very young, old, ill, dissident, “deviants”, were shipped to Auschwitz and other death camps. The young were put to work.

My mother-in-law and family worked in slave camps (I don’t know the details). In late 1944, when it became obvious that the Germans would lose the war, they expedited their genocidal efforts, and organized “forced marches” of the former slave labor to the death camps. My mother-in-law had gotten separated from her father and brother, but her mother and sisters were with her. During the march to the death camp, my mother-in-law organized a small escape, and slipped away, arranged false papers, shelter, and food for her family.

My simple worrying mother-in-law. Survived.

The area where she was was liberated by the Russians, but the Russians basically abandoned the people they had liberated, and she was able to get her family to the US sponsored displaced persons camp.

Following the war, she tried to return to her former town and home, but the home was occupied. Even though rented, the new residents refused to give back any of the stolen belongings (clothes, furniture, animals) and the returning refugees were chased from their towns, some killed.

In the big city of Budapest, they could find a way to survive. There was a large Jewish community, somewhat of an economy, and Jews were again permitted to attend university.

She studied (I don’t have a clue how she financed it), and earned a degree. She met her husband (who died before I married my wife) in Budapest at university.

In that time, Hungary adopted communism (in a corrupt process). A large number of the communist officials were Jewish. Still, practicing Jewish rituals and religion was prohibited.

My mother-in-law arranged for members of her family to travel overland to Italy, and after Israel achieved independence, traveled to Israel and was one of the pioneering youth.

Her father served in the Israeli public health service. Her husband received a PHD from the Hebrew University in chemistry, and they lived in a garage on an army base, I think near Jaffa. They were poor, food was rationed. Even with their relatively prominent positions, they lived in some deprivation. The time was heady, inspiring, motivating.

But, there was terror, and overt war. My wife’s father was some combination of haunted, ambitious, impatient, authoritative, and after serving in the 56 war, arranged a position with a pharmaceutical firm in England. The family moved there (with my wife, then 1 year old).

My mother-in-law was a housewife and mother for a few years, but later took professional positions in government and public health where they resided.

The family moved frequently due to her husband accepting research and then professorship positions in pharmaceutical chemistry in different parts of England, then Gainesville, Florida.

I don’t think my mother-in-law liked moving so frequently, particularly to Florida. (My wife didn’t.) After her husband died from either a freak accident or questionable cause of death (noone knows exactly), she moved to London to a predominately Jewish upper middle class neighborhood where she lived for the last thirty years.

In London, she was home. There were many Hungarian speaking neighbors and friends, little crime, good local shopping and public services nearby.

Over time, illnesses first restricted her movement. (She suffered a hip breakage in her 70’s, then a two botched hip replacements.) She had heart problems. Then the most unpleasant malady over an extended period was severe intestinal problems over a few years.

When I last saw her in 2009, she was gaunt, grey, weak, old. A very different woman, outwardly, than I knew from visiting previously (only a few times sadly).

Speaking to her on the phone when she grew weaker and weaker upset me. I knew she was dying.

Although Naomi and I did not get to spend much time together physically, I felt sincerely very close to her. We talked often on the phone. I was often a mediator between my wife and her. I loved that we would call each other just to speak with each other, not to speak to my wife, not about some family drama, not about my kids, just us. I considered Naomi as one of my closest friends, honest, unpretentious.

Knowing a little of my mother-in-laws experience, my son inquired into the history of the holocaust at around 18. He visited Israel and Yad Vashem, and it affected him severely emotionally, reading the names in the MANY volumes there. (I’ve never been to Yad Vashem.)

When he returned from Israel, he moped around a bit, talking often about nagmama (Hungarian for grandmother) and in despondent tones. I told him that the most important part of her life, was that following her traumas, she LIVED. She didn’t respond with despondency, but with care and vitality.

She did not adopt hatred in response to her experience. Even though Hungarian neighbors cheered as her family was driven to the camps, she doesn’t think of Hungarians as evil, complicit. Partially because she was saved by brave Hungarian families that sheltered them after her escape.

Similarly, she did not adopt a hatred of Arabs, even though she experienced wars and animosity.

In the few days of sitting Shiva that I was able to attend, a few family members and others that knew her in Hungary and Israel came by. I heard different, but similarly chilling and inspiring life stories. Her brother Imre. Cousins whose names I don’t remember, one of which is a hasid from a different sect from my son. A few neighbors.

Not a movie script story. A life story.

Thank you for living. Thank you for being a close friend. Thank you for birthing and parenting my wife. Thank you for your financial help at times. Thank you for appreciating and helping my children.

Good-bye. Rest in peace.

 

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I haven’t been following the “Occupy Wall Street” movement very closely.

Nor have I been following the anti-occupy Wall Street denunciations at all. I saw some acknowledgment of the movement on the Sunday news shows this weekend, and the concensus of denunciation and/or dismissal by the talking heads.

I enjoyed the glee that Christiane Amanpour expressed in her sympathetic laughter at the occupy Wall Street’s representative’s comment that he was the only member of the actual working class to have historically appeared on her show.

The rational criticism that I have heard of the demonstrations is that they are only a beginning identification that something is wrong, but with limited credible framing of analysis and with limited framing of proposal for improvement.

I personally believe that the remedy for our long and short-term social ills rest in the discussion of social scales, that comprise an ecology of social scales with varying roles, possibility, importance.

Each social scale constitutes a setting for BOTH individual initiative AND for shared commonwealth.

There is sufficient commonwealth between all of the social scales (if given enough attention to be a healthy) to ensure that no individual is any irreconcilable fundamental risk (except perhaps personal health) and has a path for commerce and for principled contribution to the greater good.

The current framing of an individual’s economic and work like, is primarily, individual entity relative to “the economy”. “The economy” is global, and requires participation in the scope of institutions that can compete in the global economy. The global economy includes niches that are not of international/global scope, but over time the niches diminish, incorporated into the market of global institutions.

Globalism in that sense destroys the ecology of scales that comprise a healthy portfolio of solutions. If all of the regional solutions to food problems say are non-existent, that only the global specialized supply chain is in effect, dependent on fossil fuels in particular for transit, fertilizer and chemicals, then if there is a disruption to a primary commodity, there is then NO resilient response.

If our agricultural land is consumed by sprawl tract homes, if there is a real crisis in fossil fuel supply, if there is a new blight in mono-cropped corn fields, then we don’t have the flexibility to respond to external challenges.

If however, there is a viable and functional regional food distribution system, alongside a healthy global food distribution system, then an obstacle in one sector just diverts the supply path through a different channel. A blip rather than a catastrophe.

So, what is that we are, what is that we are part of? (to quote an Incredible String Band song from 1969).

We are part of:

Families (say the Witty’s)- With economies within families, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Neighborhoods (say precinct 5 in Greenfield, MA under Poet’s Seat)- With economies within neighborhoods, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Towns (say Greenfield, MA) – With economies within towns, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Micro-regions (say Franklin County or larger the Connecticut River Valley between Springfield and Northfield)- With economies within micro-regions, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Macro-regions (say New England) – With economies within macro-regions, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Continental (say North America) – With economies within North America, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Globe (say earth) – With economies within the globe, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Right now some families function dually as both individual exchange systems and commonwealth. Some emphasize one over the other, even to the point of exclusion.

Fewer neighborhoods have really ANY organization or commonwealth or even exchange economy.

Towns have some markets, and some commonwealth in the form of municipalities, but MANY of the them are economically weak to the point of dysfunctionality, and don’t conceive of themselves as a commonwealth, but only limited constitutional obligations.

Micro-regions have some markets, but very very limited commonwealth that anyone can truly participate in. (In Massachusetts, the Boston-centric legislature determined that counties are archaic, unnecessary, an additional bureaucracy with fixed costs. That is well and good for Boston for which the suburban counties should be unified in a planning system with the Boston counties themselves. But, it does not serve Western Massachusetts well at all, for which counties are coherent governing and market scale entities.)

States are our current macro-regions, but they are residual of pre-constitutional literal states, 18th century British colonial residue.

A better form would be macro-regions. In any case, there is commonwealth and some distinct markets within states, but again, states are horridly stressed financially, and don’t often constitute a confident commonwealth, providing a safety net.

Similarly at the continental and global scale. There is some market function and some sense of commonwealth, whether distributed to individuals or universally providing capital in various forms to needed regions, communities, families.

There is a valid republican/ conservative criticism of national only setting of commonwealth and safety net. But, the criticism is only a only a partisan griping currently, and NOT a constructive proposal for an ecology of  universally healthy functioning families, communities, towns, micro-regions, macro-regions, globe.

Markets AND commonwealth at each scale.

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