Sunday, January 25, 2015

Introductions are in order!  Meet my first great-grandchild, Patrick Kayden Hebert!

... weighing in at 8 lbs 13 ounces,  and from this photo, the resemblance to his late great-grandfather, Mel, and his grandfather, David, is clearly evident. 

It's at a precious moment like this -- within the first 12 hours of his birth to my eldest granddaughter, Kokee Amanda Reid -- "Ms. Ginglehopper",  and her partner, Patrick, that I find myself wondering if we've prepared a proper place in the world for this brand new little American -- another young black male -- at a time when we're still sorting out whether or not there is room in our world for new males of his race and generation, and whether or not our justice system -- so riddled with imperfections -- will be better able to accommodate them than we've been willing to do over the past century?

On February 25th I've been invited by our truly remarkable Police Chief Chris Magnus to conduct a 90-minute workshop on race relations for his department.  This, as a followup to the continuing street protests occurring across the nation related to Ferguson and New York questionable police shootings. In my acceptance of this great honor, the not yet born Patrick played a major role.  Just maybe -- in this fast-changing young West Coast Bay Area (re-awakening?) city it still may be possible to play a small part in the making of those critical changes to our justice system that may effect little Patrick's destiny over the next decade.    Now that would be a significant legacy, would it not?

There are ways in which I feel totally inadequate to what is being asked of me.  I'm clearly not a trained "trainer" in race relations any more than I am a historian, but a private person sharing an oral history with a public that seems eager and ready to go back with me in time to own the truth as it was lived, apologize for any wrongs as may be appropriate, and then to move forward, together, into a more caring and humane future.  The content of my 90 minute presentation will be simply a re-application of the program offered in our little theater at the Visitor Education Center -- but maybe that's quite enough.  It's what I know.  But if love and hope are firmly embedded in that work, perhaps it's the best I (or anyone else for that matter) can offer in a persistently troubled  nation and world.

If we each contribute what we can to this latest pulsation in the on-going struggle against racial-profiling, undeserved and often unjustified incarceration; and for fairness in the distribution of resources; etc., than could be offered to young black and brown males before now -- than I cannot afford to underestimate the importance of any opportunity to effect how we move forward into this future that now holds my great-grandson, Patrick.

Patrick's birth cannot be allowed to be seen as that of a perpetrator!  He is entering life as a much-loved little citizen who is carrying the hopes and dreams of a family who needs the support of society in order to gradually unfold the gifts that he may have brought with him into our  deeply troubled world.

Patrick Kayden Hebert's life matters!

Monday, January 19, 2015

For weeks now I've been saving up my pennies toward the purchase of an IPhone 6 ... .

... a luxury, surely, when I have a perfectly adequate flip phone and -- these days -- except for calls from Dorian -- I'm rarely taking calls except at my office.   In a related case, after being frugal for weeks I've accumulated nearly enough to get myself down to the MAC store after being convinced that I owe myself this one luxury.  (Stupid, since next month I'll not owe myself anything.  The debt will be to my credit card company!)

However, on Friday I woke with the vaguely familiar tightening of the throat and a raspy voice and all signs of the onset of a fresh cold.  Called my physician who suggested that this may be just a common cold, but that -- since this is flu season and -- (despite the fact that I had dutifully gotten my flu shot in October), at my age we need to err on the side of caution.  "Come in and let me check you out and order up an anti-viral."

In a few hours, with prescription in hand I found myself before a pharmacist who informed me that the hospital was totally out of the drug, but that he would make some calls around to see where I could pick it up.  No luck.  Walked back down the hall to my doctor's office who then wrote out a prescription and told me to take it to my local outside pharmacy.  Returned to the hospital pharmacy to release them of the need to continue to try to locate a supply.  The manager took my doctor-written prescription and replaced it with a blue card saying, "you're going to be charged an arm and a leg, but since we can't fill this until another shipment arrives on Monday morning (there's a 48-hour window in which to act before it becomes ineffective against this year's flu bug) you need to present this card at Walgreens and then we can reimburse you the difference between the Kaiser price and that of an outside pharmacy."

Twenty-four hours later (after driving around for what seems an endless search) a supply was located at a pharmacy in the next town of El Cerrito.

Picked up the prescription yesterday, handed my credit card to the clerk, then stood in shock as I signed for the transaction,  $196.83 for ten 30 milligram tiny pills taken twice daily for a 5-day regimen.

My IPhone 6 would have cost $199.

For a few minutes there I considered whether I wouldn't just prefer to suffer the flu for a few days and drive down to Emeryville to pick up my new phone.  I opted to be sensible, but for a while there it was a toss-up.

What ridiculous choices we're called upon to make these days.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I can't remember a time when I've felt more conflicted ... .

... hardly sleeping since the cruel murder of those 12 satirists of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the others who were so tragically and needlessly sacrificed to ideological differences. 

As a native-born American deeply embedded in Western culture, the concept of Freedom of Speech is solidly ingrained in my DNA.  My evening ritual is to watch Jon Stewart defame all that we hold sacred on his show.  Along with many I, too, can claim to viewing much of my news through that Daily Show prism, and am grateful for the chance to do so by right of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.   I'm not sure I could live through some of the headlines we're subjected to without having that response shaped through Stewart and his troupe of "correspondents" pointing out the inconsistencies and foolishness in the behaviors of some of our leaders.  They make some of the blatant insults tolerable because it's obvious that others see them, too, and I'm not alone.  That's unarguable.

So what's the big problem?

The suspicion that somewhere along the line under those "rights," it's possible to drift across the line into hate speech.  After viewing online some of the drawings that were seen by some to be offensive enough to warrant being addressed by gunfire, I found myself wondering what would have happened had those offended been (as I am) African American, a people subjected to unspeakable cruelty and injustice over centuries -- would I have been able to tolerate the disrespect of my religious figures as an expression of someone else's right of free speech?  I'm not all that sure.   I find myself, (timidly) identifying with those offended.

Under that same writ -- I have the right to confront my offenders and/or find redress for grievances  and without paying a penalty for doing so.  It took a long time for social evolution to make that possible even in this country, though we've been moving toward that goal for many years.  That right is respected subjectively, and is still available only to those with enough courage and the resources to demand it.  In the Islamic world, many are not yet aware of or capable of adopting such a concept, and have little reason to do so without risking the destruction of their world as they know it. 

I suspect that the other side is weighted by an opposing factor, that of White (Western) Privilege.  I doubt if any of those satirists at Charlie Hebdo were from the Muslim community. Were that not so, some sensitivity may have been introduced long ago, and the carnage might never have happened. People rarely exploit friends or their belief systems where caring relationships exist.  One would never ridicule Great Aunt Harriet for falling to her knees and lighting a candle before her home altar in the hope of the blessings needed to face her uncertain tomorrows.

I fear that this case was tainted by western privilege, and a monumental lack of sensitivity, or it could simply not have happened.

Stewart is just as apt to hold up his own Jewish culture for derision, but in a loving way.   Aasif Mandvi is often found in an Arab-based skit that's delivered with both substance and wit.   And we're just as apt to laugh along with both in those instances.  The amusement is present when we're experiencing the satire from inside the circle and no one is having to feel laughed at.   Or, when the subject is able to see him- or herself satirized and learn from the piece something of value.  I've seen even our presidents join the laughter when appropriate, and later incorporate new views of themselves into their presentations.   The Daily Show rarely is mean-spirited, though it goes for the big laugh in ways that bite! The best of satire is most effective when it holds up for ridicule the foibles that we can all recognize as human.

Maybe we need to debate the issues and try to determine just when satire and hate speech cross over into something unspeakably cruel and irrational.  Our future may depend upon our ability to do just that.

Of course, nothing could possibly justify taking lives for the sake of political or religious beliefs.

... but then, as a wise teacher once told me long ago,

Every culture has beliefs for which it is willing to kill or die, but by which it refuses to live.  We are no exception to this maxim.

Christian or Muslim, Jew or Gentile, Agnostic or Atheist, whatever one believes to be the fundamental Truth -- it is impossible to share the planet without the separation of church and State.  Theocracies lead us into No Man's Land, and work against the international unity we must continually re-create or risk international ruin.

An over-simplification?

Maybe, but it seems as I grow older that -- after due consideration -- truths are often elegantly simple, and as often as not -- are made more complicated by being over-thought.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Blessings ...

This amazing work was produced by my daughter, Dorian.  Though developmentally disabled, she is confirmed in her sincere belief that her full identity is that of "artist."

This piece measures 22" x 29" and is in pen and ink, black and white.  The level of expertise developed over the years is evident here in the depth, shading, layering of images, and deserves framing and a place on the wall of my living-room beside the work of the professionals that I've managed to collect over those same years.  She found her soul through the self-esteem acquired from exposure to the outstanding artist instructors (ceramics, textile work, painting, drawing, etc.) who've devoted their lives and careers to working with "outsider" artists who share life at Richmond's National Institute for Artists and Disabilities (NIAD). 

I'm off to the art shop on Telegraph Avenue to have it matted and framed  for posterity!

Were it not for such balancing features to life on earth, I don't believe I'd want to wake up tomorrow morning ... but with such blessings to be searched out and treasured ... we'll settle for at least a few more eternities!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Does aging give one the power to see the patterns of the past ... to connect the dots?

 ... or am I simply suffering from one of the delusions of the onset of dementia?  It all seems so clear to me.

In this most recent resurgence of yet another pulsation in the centuries-old struggle for human rights   being witnessed on our streets, am I the only one making the connection between our never-ending military adventures across the world and what is happening between law enforcement and a disproportionate number of young black men in our country?

Is it because we're not looking deeply enough at those connections?

Can we not see that for decades now -- ever since WWII -- we've been engaged in small and large wars across the world, and that we've systematically been turning our youth into killers?

And, upon their return to civilian life we've been giving our war veterans preferential hiring into our law enforcement agencies in every city in every state.  They've been seen as prize catches since they've been seen as pre-trained to the keeping of the peace in our cities, protecting privileged Americans from the perceived enemy -- young black males who've never been fully integrated into the greater society.  Many of whom have criminal records before they've reached their 21st birthday due to drug convictions or unfair conditions that limit opportunities for a good life.

In recent years we've been arming our veterans with more and more surplus military equipment, super-vehicles, uniforms, armaments, and turning them loose with many still suffering from PTSD or  perhaps insufficient retraining for civilian life due to a failing mental health systems.   

Given the systemic racial biases that have never been mitigated -- remember, we've never truly processed the Civil War -- which still dictates white privilege as the rule of the day, our streets in some communities have become war zones.  Our police forces have in a growing number of instances become executioners in relation to young black and brown males.

Deadly force is now the rule of the day.

... and has anyone noticed the irony in the fact that -- in this week's escalation of street violence those two young NYPD police officers died so tragically as victims of profiling?  Their humanity was overlooked by one too deranged to notice that these were fellow-human beings.  In his warped mind they were only dehumanized members of the hated uniforms so feared in black neighborhoods.

Is it possible to prevail as a self-appointed police force to the world by turning our children into killers and not risk what we're seeing now -- a frightened army of law enforcement young men and women who see their role as that of protecting the privileged from those they seem to see as the unwashed?

... and can we do that under a democracy that continues to be unclear about the concept of what constitutes torture?

All this at a time when American arrogance wastefully defends the use of our precious Right of Free Speech in a vicious racist depiction of the violent execution of the ruler of another country!  A comedic right?  I'm not amused.  And. yes, I do understand and appreciate the need to protect our freedoms to even insult the leader of another country -- but decry the insensitivity when doing so creates bitter resentment at a time of international instability.  Is common sense no longer an essential element in our troubled lives? And at a time when the Internet is rife with undeserving disrespect for our president and his family; for the office of the presidency itself,  and led by some members of Congress and the rich and powerful of this nation.  This risk is taken despite the fact that we're sending our youth off to fight for democratic principles that we're willing to allow them to die for but by which we stubbornly refuse to live!

There is hope in the fact that we're beginning to see real conversations occurring in our boardrooms, our educational institutions, and most importantly on the Internet between opposing factions.  That we're seeing people of all ages, races, genders, dealing with the hard questions, marching together on the streets of America -- wondering aloud about the direction of our future ... .

Maybe the only thing good about these troubling days is that dim glimmer of hope in an otherwise frightening world that clouds our reality with scenes of horror -- and wakes me from deeply troubled sleep.

Is the one prevailing hope that world peace must be at the top of our concerns if we are to cease turning our children into killers of other people's children, whether within our own borders or beyond?  The world cannot possibly be sustained in its current state which pits the use of conscienceless sophisticated drones against marauding bands of brutal men who commit primitive be-headings in an operatic exercise of testosterone-driven unspeakable cruelty!

Can we really expect to solve the civil disturbances within our borders if we don't actively take on the establishing of ...

Peace on earth and good will toward all?"


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

She was a tiny sparrow of a woman -- maybe 4'9" and surely not more than 85 pounds ...

She came to the Visitor Education Center with her granddaughter for my two o'clock presentation,  arriving early enough to introduce themselves.  The grandmother was visiting from Israel and knew only a few words in English which were used up within the first greeting.  Her granddaughter wanted me to know that she'd brought her at the older woman's request -- but she wanted my permission to translate during my talk and didn't want to seem rude.  I have no idea how this elder had learned about me or my work, and probably never will, given the language barrier.

I assured her that this would not be a problem, and quickly forgot about it and immediately walked away to greet the day's audience.

It wasn't until the end of the talk -- in the usual exchange of greetings and comments that normally follows -- that I noticed them again lingering at the rear of the theater.

The grandmother was smiling broadly, and the younger woman told me that after the first few moments there was a tug at her arm and finger to lips in the universal gesture of "be still!"  She did not want or need translation, but apparently simply wanted to experience the room and whatever it was that was being said and felt.  She was obviously pleased, and warm hugs were exchanged before their taking leave.

That was a week ago.

Yesterday as folks gathered for the two o'clock ranger talk, both turned up again, this time with  another relative in tow.  This woman described herself as an historian, but with what institution of learning she might be associated with never became clear.  There was no the time to delve any deeper.

"My grandmother is returning to Israel in two days and wanted to return to hear you again before leaving."

What in the world this 90 year-old  -- whose only language was Yiddish -- could gain from a repeat performance is a mystery.

Tomorrow she will board her plane for the long flight home, and I'll never learn anything more about her.

... that is -- unless her granddaughter stops in again at some future time and there will be some answer that might shed some light ... .

I've spoken about that magical thing that happens during these presentations, and I'm reminded that I've never quite found the answer to just what that is; and whether it's related to what I do, or, what I am?  Whatever it is is surely not dependent upon language.  Interesting?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I am devastated by events in Ferguson ... and any attempt to write about them seems futile ...

Everything seems so obvious ... the pattern so clearly established by repetition ...

What's to be said?

Tonight I watched a high-level representative from the Ferguson police force; all decked out in riot gear standing beside a heavily armored military vehicle with more weaponry hanging on various straps and belts on his person than should be allowed in a civilized society.  With so much personal protective gear, why are they so in fear of our young black males?  In light of events, his words were incongruous!  In the background were the still-smoldering embers of some family's version of the American Dream. 

"This violence must not be allowed to continue!" shouts he ...

... with little recognition that those words are precisely those used by the rightfully angry mobs in the streets seeking retribution and change through questionable acts borne of the original violence.  Why can no one see that it has become circular and predictive, and that it will take all of us to break out of this tragically destructive cycle?

... and the young mother who -- when interviewed on camera stated ironically;  tearfully, 

"... they can't tell me how to be oppressed!"

Maybe the operative word in his sentence is "This", because the original violence occurred in the lives of black families as they've had to face the brutality of a justice system gone mad and the tragic loss of a young son, unarmed and vulnerable.  Shades of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant and a growing list of other young black men who were sacrificed to fear and ignorance in these times.

Maybe the only positive thing we can take away from the insanity is the fact that the protesters across the country are of every religion, age, race, and ethnicity.  Maybe that counts for something, but it's of little comfort in dark times like these.  These are not out-of-control black folks creating senseless havoc on these streets .  The outrage is shared by people of conscience across the barriers of their differences.   

... and then came the news of the police killing of that 12 year-old youngster with the toy gun in a city park... . 

... and it isn't over yet.  Just watched the video clip of the young African American minister  (Rev. Carleton Lee) reporting the fact that, his Flood Christan Church was burned down last night, a church to which Michael Brown's family belonged, and that stood on the other side of town from the rioting.  This, after receiving threats from White Supremicists who were offended by his standing up publicly for the Brown family in their hour of need.

Depression, thy name is Betty.

I'm feeling particularly old tonight, and old is more than just a stage in later life.

... maybe old is another name for unmitigated sadness ... .

(Note:  For donations:  http://www.thefloodchurch.org//#!giving/cd48 - to see his NBC interview go to his video - http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/michael-brown-shooting/michael-brown-sr-s-church-burned-ferguson-n255961)

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