SoCS: making welcome

In these days of social distancing, how can we make each other feel welcomed?

We have been used to meeting in person, hugging, kissing, shaking hands, or whatever local custom and closeness of relationship between the people indicated, but, with fears of infection mounting and lots of restrictions in place depending on your location, it is hard to get within six feet of a person who is not a member of your household.

It seems to be a good time to use our voices. In some places in Europe, people who are not allowed to leave their homes are singing to each other from their balconies. That requires a certain kind of city to work. If I sang from my front porch, I don’t think any of the neighbors would hear. Then again, I don’t have a very loud voice.

I do, however, have a renewed appreciation for phone calls and the much more recent videochats. I especially love being able to hear and see E and ABC in London. After our visit in December, we had thought we would be able to visit again this spring, but there is about 0% chance of that with the travel restrictions in place now and any reasonable projection of the spread of COVID-19 in both the US and the UK.

I’m also even more appreciative of notes and messaging and emails. I admittedly have been doing a lot of that in recent years, but even more so in these recent weeks. Groups from whom I receive emails are busily trying to strengthen online connections. Two big in-person actions planned for this spring – major climate/environmental action centered around the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in the US in April and a world-wide Catholic women’s strike in May – are now re-imagining their activities. Even retailers are writing about what they are doing in terms of store closings and online shopping, while also expressing concern for the health of their employees and the communities they serve.

I also truly appreciate all the friends and family who are posting to social media or sending private messages, letting others know they are okay and checking up on people.

Later today, I will be welcoming people to a review of my chapbook manuscript. Until a few days ago, it was going to be a small in-person party. Now, our plan is to meet via Zoom. We will safely be able to see each other and talk about the manuscript, each from the safety of our own homes, places where we are safe from both the virus, which is not widely prevalent in our county yet, thank God, and from the very real fear that we might unwittingly pass it to someone before having any symptoms or ideas that we are infected.

It will be different than the prior manuscript reviews our circle of poets have done in-person, but, in a way, it may feel more precious and more connected, precisely because we know we won’t be able to gather in person for weeks or months to come. When we are allowed, I hope that we will be able to have a much-delayed party with everyone gathered in one room.

If I am very, very ,very, very lucky, maybe one day we can celebrate its publication.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “welcome.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/03/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-21-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!
https://www.quaintrevival.com/

Failing the Constitution

I woke up this morning thinking about the United States Constitution, specifically about the Preamble, which I can recite from memory. (Thanks, Schoolhouse Rock.)

The Preamble sets out the goals of our democratic republic. It famously begins, We the People of the United States. This means everyone is part of this enterprise, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or political views. It was part of the wisdom of the Founders to frame this document in such an expansive way, even though, at the time, only free men, who were overwhelmingly white, could vote. Much of the history of the United States has been about expanding our understanding of who “we the people” are, a process that continues to this day.

in Order to form a more perfect Union – We the People are, at this moment, moving away from a more perfect Union. I take this Constitutional call seriously and am sad and frightened about the current state of affairs, which is causing so many divides in our country. There are millions of people who are embroiled in an “us versus them” mentality over religion, political party, race. gender, ethnicity, and/or viewpoint on a particular issue. There are millions of people who can’t have a civil discussion of an issue without petty name-calling and dismissiveness of the other’s viewpoint. That moves us away from “a more perfect Union”.

establish Justice – Our Constitution creates an entire co-equal branch dedicated to this goal. Sadly, the independence of the judiciary is under threat, most obviously this week by the executive branch interfering in the sentencing of a friend of the president’s who was tried and found guilty by a jury on all seven counts with which he was charged. The Attorney General, who is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, is supposed to be the chief law officer for We the People; as such, most attornies-general have observed independence from the executive branch. AG Barr is not doing that. Chillingly, he has also ordered that no investigation into political campaigns can occur without him personally giving permission. This mean that the Federal Bureau of Investigation cannot follow leads, collect evidence, question witnesses, or take any action unless Barr authorizes it. He could order investigations of Democratic candidates while blocking those of Republican candidates. Given that twelve Russian operatives are under indictment for election interference to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, this raises the specter of similar efforts by Russians or other foreign actors not being investigated at all, as long as they benefit the current administration and other Republican candidates.

Meanwhile, the Senate has been interfering with the judicial branch, too. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not bring President Obama’s federal court nominees to the Senate for confirmation. Not only did Merrick Garland not get a vote to join the Supreme Court but also dozens of nominees to lower courts were denied votes. McConnell has spent a lot of the Senate’s time pushing through the current administration’s judicial nominees, even those rated as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Traditionally in the Senate, sixty of one hundred votes would have been needed to bring these to the floor, but that rule has been suspended, so even the not-qualified candidates receive lifetime appointments to the courts with only fifty votes.

insure domestic Tranquility – Our domestic life is anything but tranquil. The incivility noted in the “more perfect Union” section too often devolves into verbal abuse and threats to personal safety. There have been threats of violence, even death, to journalists, public officeholders, diplomats, members of the military, and people who either question the administration or come forward to give truthful testimony.  Even ordinary folks can be threatened over simple things like video games or expressing their opinion about books or topics of public interest.

Too many people are hurt or killed by violent acts, especially those involving firearms. Mass shootings and police shootings get the most media coverage, but every day people are shot by someone they know or are victims of accidental shootings. The majority of gun deaths in the United States are suicides. These are not marks of domestic tranquility.

Millions of people don’t have access to sufficient food, safe shelter, medical care, and other necessities of a dignified life. Most of them are employed, but not earning a living wage. Millions of people are suffering from addictions. Millions of people are exploited because of their gender, immigration status, age, or other factors that make them fearful to seek help. Millions of people face discrimination because of their race, gender, age, ethnicity, or beliefs. None of these things are tranquil for those suffering through them or for those who sympathize with them.

provide for the common defence – The United States military is the most powerful institution in the world. It should be used to defend the United States and our allies from aggression. Often, the presence of US military is enough to deter countries from attacking their neighbors. I am appalled by the way this administration has pulled back support for our allies, such as South Korea, Ukraine, NATO, and the Kurds. These actions make both the US and our allies less defended and less safe. The treatment of the Kurds is especially troubling. The Kurds did the bulk of the work in taking back land controlled by ISIS; the US withdrawal that the president declared after talking with the autocratic leader of Turkey left the Kurds with no protection from the Turks and the Russians who have taken over the Kurdish towns and driven the residents into exile. Meanwhile, ISIS, continues as a terrorist organization, which is a continuing threat to the US and our allies.

promote the general welfare – This is the phrase from the Preamble that I quote most often. The Constitution is calling us to care for one another. This is also sometimes called in our modern American English working for the common good. This is one of the purposes of our government, but too often government acts in the interests of those individuals, families, businesses, and organizations that are wealthy. This tiny fraction receives a lot of benefits that ordinary folks don’t. Case in point: the tax reform that gave permanent tax cuts to businesses and large tax cuts to the wealthy, while giving some short-term tax relief to some non-wealthy people and higher taxes to others.

Too often our elected officials ignore promoting the general welfare, instead focusing on their campaign donors, businesses in their district or state, and wealthy folks rather than what is good for the general population, both in their district/state and throughout the country. Votes are cast not in the interest of the whole populace but with an eye to what the voters in their party’s primary wants.  Even worse, some officeholders feel that they only represent people of their party or those that voted for them. That is not the framework laid out by the Constitution. We the People expect our government officials to cooperate in passing, executing, and adjudicating laws that promote the general welfare and protect our rights, not to block a proposal because it originated in the other party or was passed by the other house of Congress. Examples of this are the hundreds of (mostly bipartisan) House-passed bills this session that Leader McConnell has blocked in the Senate and the comprehensive immigration reform passed by a bipartisan majority in the Senate in 2013 but not brought up for a vote in the House because it would have passed without a majority of the Republican members voting in favor.

and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity – While I feel fortunate to have these blessings, so many others do not. They face discrimination, poverty, abuse, hunger and other problems every day. I mourn the country and world we are leaving to the younger generations and those to come. We are leaving them with division and peril, with our world damaged so much that some of the ecological systems will not be able to recover fully even over centuries. Recognizing this, many young people have taken action to demand change. The Sunrise movement works on issues of climate change and environmental degradation. After a mass shooting at their school, the students of Parkland High mobilized young people across the country to demand protection from gun violence. It is incumbent on all of us to support our younger generations, already part of We the People, and future generations who one day will be.

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. – We the People established our government. It belongs to all of us, not just to a few of us. We need to hold government accountable for the purposes for which we established it. We need Congress to take responsibility for passing laws that are fair to everyone. We need them to exercise their Constitutional duty to declare war when necessary, rather than ceding that power to the commander-in-chief or military leaders. We need everyone to realize that Article II does not give presidents the power to do whatever they want. They are subject to Congressional oversight and judicial proceedings. The courts have to realize that they exist to interpret the Constitution and laws, not write them.

It is troubling that a large percentage of people in this country today tell pollsters that they believe Congress and the courts should get out of the president’s way so that he can do what he wants quickly. This is incredibly dangerous to our democratic republic. We the People must be informed on what the Constitution dictates and hold officeholders and other public servants to it. Those who commit serious breaches of the Constitution should resign. If they don’t, they should be removed by legal means or, at the very least, not re-elected or re-appointed.

I have not been silent on these issues but, given the troubling events of the last few weeks, I felt the need to write this lengthy post to be among those sounding the alarm that our country is in danger. Like me, most of us do not have a large megaphone to broadcast our voices far and wide, but if enough of us speak up in defense of our Constitution, our government will hear the voices of We the People.

SoCS: snow

It’s been an odd fall/winter season here in upstate New York. We had a lot of snow in the second half of fall and then not much since.

Until yesterday.

We were originally in a 4-7 inch band but overnight got bumped into 6-12 inches. When the snow started, it came down fast, between one and two inches an hour. (Sorry that I can’t do all the centimeter conversions in stream of consciousness, but 1 inch is about 2 and a half centimeters.)

I wanted to shovel during the storm because it can be hard to move deep snow all at once at the end of the storm. I had ambitions to keep the driveway and walk relatively clear.

Well, as it turned out, ambitions, but not enough strength.

The snow was very heavy, the kind that packs really well but is a bear to shovel because it sticks to the shovel, making it difficult to throw onto the snowbank. If ABC were still living here, we would have had fun making snow-children with the sticky, packable snow. They don’t tend to get a lot of snow in London, though. Maybe I should have made a miniature snow family and sent her a photo. When E and T were young, we used to make smaller snow figures instead of Frosty the Snowman size ones. It was easier for little hands – and very cute besides!

Because it has not been a very snowy winter here, we don’t have much snowpack to speak of. That’s not much of a problem here because we tend to get adequate precipitation throughout the year. I know that some places need to depend on the snowpack for water in the spring and summer, though, so I hope those regions are getting plenty of snow.

When I was growing up, my dad, known here at TJCM as Paco, worked for New England Power in the hydro division. They had several reservoirs and hydroelectric stations along the upper Deerfield River. I remember Paco and his crew going up into the woods to measure the snowpack and how much water it was holding so that they could predict how the spring run-off would be. They wanted to be able to fill the reservoirs and control the flow in the river so that it didn’t flood – or, at least, didn’t flood too badly. In those days, with climate change impacts not as pronounced as they are now, they were able to predict things pretty well. Paco has been retired for a long time and doesn’t live in that area anymore, but I’m sure his successors have a more challenging time assessing run-off from their snowpack measures.

Everything is so much more unpredictable nowadays.

In a lot of ways, but that would be another (several) posts…,
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “(un)pack.”  Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/02/07/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-8-2020/

SoCS: How?

How am I supposed to plan for the future in our present world? Or maybe, how am I supposed to feel settled enough to think that planning is useful?

I don’t mean this in a personal sense. I learned a long time ago that things happen to ourselves and our loved ones in random and inexplicable ways.

I did you used to feel, though, that institutions, like the US government and the Catholic church and society in general, had certain rules and ways of being that lasted or that transformed over periods of time as knowledge advanced.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Today, of course, there was a lot more news coverage on what the assassination of General Soleimani might mean for the future. United States citizens and businesses in the Middle East are considered most at risk, but there is the possibility of reprisals within the US or a cyberattack. It’s known that foreign entities have hacked into US infrastructure, such as the electrical grid. How does one plan for that? Should I wake up every morning thinking about what I would do if the electricity went down for weeks?

I don’t think I could sustain that level of alarm long-term…

How do I remain calm in the face of the political turmoil in the US? The upcoming impeachment trial and the legislative fallout from the Iran conflict and let’s not forget about North Korea’s threat to test a new weapon of some sort. And who will the Democrats nominate? What new rifts will develop among the already sadly fractured electorate?

Did all the people who hate someone because of their skin color, language, religion, gender, etc. always feel hateful, but we are just noticing it now because they aren’t afraid to express their hatred publicly?

Don’t even get me started on dealing with the maelstrom in the Catholic church.

As Greta Thunberg has reminded people so directly, how can we not treat the climate crisis as, well, a crisis that needs our concerted efforts every day? How do we not see the suffering from fires, floods, storms, droughts, sea level rise, deforestation, desertification, and ocean warming and acidification that is always present? Or how do we see it and still not act?

Wow, this stream of consciousness started out serious and just keeps getting more and more serious. For better or for worse, this is how JC’s mind works.

And I don’t know how to turn it off.
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The prompt for today was to use a word with “ow” in it. You are probably all sorry that I let my mind stream on the word “how.” Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/03/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2020-daily-prompt-jan-4th/

SoCS: 2019/2020

Some years stand out in memory as more difficult than others.

For me, 2005 was one of those years. Within a few months that year, I lost a close friend and my father-in-law to cancer. At the same time, our long-time parish disintegrated, just at the time when we needed spiritual comfort the most.

2019 has also been one of those years.

We dealt with the final months of my mom’s struggle with congestive heart failure and her death in May. Then, there were the many facets of dealing with her death for me and our family, the practical things like funeral arrangements and mounds of paperwork and the personal things, learning to navigate in a world without her.

This year also saw the bittersweet re-location of daughter E and granddaughter ABC to the UK after E’s spousal visa finally came through. We love that they are finally able to live together full-time as a family, but miss having them here on this side of the pond. It was a privilege being here to watch ABC grow from a tiny newborn into a rambunctious, talkative two-year-old. We appreciate being able to visit London in person and to videochat, but it is still a big re-adjustment.

With the losses, celebrating the holidays has been difficult for me. We made lasagna for Christmas using a recipe from Nana and used one of her relish dishes for serving olives. There are ornaments that came from both sides of our family on the tree, as well as some baby’s first Christmas ornaments commemorating ABC’s birth in 2017. We appreciate our memories of Christmas celebrations with Nana and Paco (my parents) and Grandma and Grandpa (B’s parents). I smile thinking about the year that L proposed to E on Christmas morning while visiting here. I remember how, last year, the lower half of our tree was all unbreakable ornaments in deference to ABC who was then 18 months old. Now, there are fragile ornaments scattered throughout all the branches. Christmas this year was very quiet, with just Paco, B, T, and I here for the lasagna and Christmas cookies, which has been our tradition since the years when E and T were young and participating in Christmas morning liturgy for children and families at church. Lasagna was great because you could prep it the night before and bake after church to have dinner at midday.

Of course, all of the personal struggles come at a time of great upheaval, socially and politically, in both the US and the UK. We are all living in a world struggling to deal with present and future climate change and trying to marshall personal and political will to make the changes needed to addresses the causes and effects as best we can.

I know that some people feel a lot of positive energy when we enter a new year and a new decade. I admit that I am not generally one of those people, seeing January first as the day that follows December 31st and not as some shiny new beginning. I don’t know if this change of year will feel different or not. I certainly am feeling the need now to try to take stock and re-arrange the way I use my days, perhaps managing to be more deliberate, now that there are not quite so many factors in my life that require changes of plan and quick reactions to shifting circumstances and priorities.

Perhaps, what I really need is time to rest and take stock, like a sabbatical or a year of Jubilee as it is described in the Hebrew Scriptures. Or maybe not a whole year, but a few months. I will have to ponder…

Sometimes, writing stream of consciousness stays in its own little stories. Today, though, it feels more like travelling.

As we draw close to the beginning of 2020, I wish that the year will take each of you where you most need to go.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “year.” Please join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/12/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-28-19

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley! https://www.quaintrevival.com/

mostly fossil-free home!

A project that B and I have been working on for years is finally complete. With the installation of a geothermal heating/cooling system, we are able to disconnect our home from the methane infrastructure, which in our area means that we are no longer burning fracked gas from neighboring Pennsylvania in our home. Because we had previously installed a hybrid electric/heat pump hot water heater, our furnace had been the only thing still attached to the gas lines. Now that it is gone, we won’t have to pay for methane, which is relatively low-priced at the moment, or the delivery charges, which are relatively expensive in New York. Those savings will help with our electric bill, which will go up, although our panels in a community solar array generate a good chunk of our electricity. In our region of New York, changing from methane to geothermal for heating is considered a wash in terms of cost, but our air conditioning costs will be much lower with the heat pump than with our outdoor compressor unit.

We have done other projects to make our home more efficient, such as changing to LED lighting and adding more insulation. We use a rechargeable battery-operated lawn mower and electric leaf blower. The only two household things that will still use fossil fuels are our propane grill and our gasoline-powered snowblower, which is only needed a handful of times a year, if that.

We have also cut way back on our use of gasoline for transportation, driving an all-electric Chevy Bolt and a plug-in hybrid electric Chrysler Pacifica. We only use gasoline when we take the Pacifica on longer trips. It gets 30ish miles on battery. When it is running on gas, some of the engine power re-charges the battery, so even when we have no plug-in charge remaining, a quarter to a third of our miles will still be battery powered. It could be even more than that if we are driving on roads with terrain or lots of stop signs/lights because the braking is regenerative, meaning the energy from slowing the car goes toward charging the battery. It’s possible that, as rapid charging stations become more available, we may be able to take longer trips in our Bolt, which would cut our gasoline usage even further. (I know some of you urbanites are wondering why we don’t use mass transit. Unfortunately, our area has almost no mass transit available.)

We have tried to cut down our fossil fuel usage and control our total energy usage as much as is practicable, but I know there is one sector where our carbon footprint will become heavier rather than lighter. I have not been a frequent flyer in my first almost-six decades, but I am likely to be flying several times a year for the foreseeable future. With daughter E and granddaughter ABC’s recent move to London, I see a fair number of airplane flights coming.

The first one will be next month.

SoCS: hole in the ground

For the last three days, there has been a crew in our front yard drilling a 500-foot hole in the ground. That’s about 150 meters for all you people who live in the metric world, which is almost everyone except the US…

The reason for this is not to find water, which happened well before they hit rock at 80 feet. Instead, this very deep hole is to install a geothermal heating and cooling system.

I’m excited because, after the new system is in, we will be able to permanently disconnect our house from the methane supply system. Our cooling costs will also be much lower because geothermal systems are much more efficient than the typical central air conditioning unit.

I will be glad not to be using any fracked gas which has caused so much trouble for our PA (Pennsylvania) neighbors and the climate. We will also helping to support the New York State version of a “Green New Deal”, moving to renewable energy in a way that is supportive of impacted workers and communities.

At the moment, though, we just have a very deep hole in the ground with two tubes coming out of it – and a very, very muddy, messy yard.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “ground.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-12-19/

One-Liner Wednesday: presence

The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that.
~~~ Joanna Macy
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/02/one-liner-wednesday-sorry/ 

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

Climate strike – part two

Friday, September 27th was the last day of the Climate Action Week that featured youth-led marches, rallies, and work/school strikes around the world. As happened around the world, there was an opening event last Friday in Binghamton, with a larger event scheduled for the closing day.

This event was held at the Peacemaker’s Stage near the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. We began with a welcome from the University student-organizers, who recalled that we were on land of the Onondoga Nation, who have endured centuries of broken treaties and environmental assault. This continued the emphasis on social/environmental justice as an integral component of climate action.

The climate movement in the United States is being energized by youth and indigenous leadership. At the Binghamton rally on Friday, there were speakers from the local high school and university, as well as young adults from Citizen Action and local government, either as city council members or candidates. There were people on hand to register new voters or process address changes for those who have moved to be ready for the local elections coming up in November.

Some of the speakers were people of color. Amber, from Citizen Action, reminded us that we bring our personal and community heritage with us, as well as our efforts toward treating everyone with equal dignity. It reminded me of what Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato Si’ calls “integral ecology” and what I personally experience.

While I am following the science on climate change, I am also taking into account the ethics involved. Because of my Catholic faith, I see the situation in terms of social justice doctrine, which calls for care of creation and of others, especially the most vulnerable. People of color, people of lower socioeconomic standing, indigenous peoples, women, the elderly, babies and children, and people with illnesses are more affected by environmental degradation and climate change, so they merit special support in our efforts.

Amber and other speakers reminded us that all our efforts are connected. You don’t leave your efforts toward combating racism, sexism, poverty, violence, etc. when you are talking about climate and other environmental problems. All of these are justice issues; they are interconnected and the solutions need to take the whole spectrum of humanity and nature into account.

Besides the speakers, the event featured tables set up by different organizations. It was good to have a space for the youth organizations to meet up with the older, established local organizations. It will make it easier to coordinate efforts and initiatives. Next Sunday, there will be a planning meeting open to everyone to keep the momentum going.

There is a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it!

 

 

Climate Strike!

The day after I wrote this post lamenting the lack of a local climate strike action, I got an email from a local climate champion saying that there would be an event in Binghamton on Friday, the day that millions of people took part in thousands of actions around the world.

We met in front of the building that houses Senator Schumer’s office. As Senate minority leader, he is our most influential representative in Washington. In keeping with the youth leadership of climate strikes, this was organized by local university students, with lots of energy coming from the students who gathered. There were also a number of allies, many of whom were veterans of the fight against fracking in New York State.

I was pleased to be able to attend and lend support and happy to be part of three generations in my family there. Daughters E and T were both there; granddaughter ABC, at two years old, was the youngest attendee. Several people commented that we were gathered there for climate action for her and her generation, so that they will have a livable planet.

Our climate strike event on Friday was very grassroots, with the co-organizers speaking and then offering the mike to anyone that wanted to speak. Next Friday, September 27th, will be a larger and more formal event with several local organizations as sponsors, featuring speakers, music, tabling, and food. I hope to be able to attend that, too.

There is a lot of work to do in order to keep global temperature rise in check, so much that it often seems impossible, but I am more hopeful than I have been for a while. With young people around the world rallying and demanding action, maybe national leaders will finally find the political will to make a rapid and just transition to a sustainable, though still damaged, world.

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