Does anybody really know what time it is?

No, seriously. Does anybody really know what time it is?

Earlier this week, daughter E and now five-month-old ABC returned from visiting spouse/daddy L and his family and friends in London. They were there for three weeks and had lots of good times and adventures and firsts, but crossing five time zones and having daylight savings time shift was a bit steep for a child who had barely been learning that night is supposed to be mostly for sleeping. The flight back was particularly disorienting, as it involved getting up at 4 AM London time and arriving here at 5 PM Eastern Standard Time, which feels like 9 PM in London. ABC decided to only take two one-hour naps in all that time, so both she and E were exhausted. That evening, they did both sleep for a six hour stretch, which was helpful, but one of our goals in the coming weeks will be see if we can get ABC to consistently sleep a long stretch at night and take a couple of daytime naps so there will be some semblance of schedule. There should be no more time zone travel for a while, so here’s hoping.

As we were preparing to change our clocks back to standard time last weekend, which, confusingly, happens in the US on a different weekend than in most of the rest of the Northern hemisphere, there were numerous media stories about proposals for the state of Massachusetts to switch to the Atlantic time zone, which would essentially be like being on Eastern Daylight Savings Time year-round, helpful for them as they are on eastern edge of the zone now, so have early sunsets. However, because they are a small state with five bordering states, they will have to convince the other northeastern states to change time zones along with them, joining the parts of Quebec that are on Atlantic Standard Time year-round. I am not a fan of daylight savings time shifts, so I would favor the change to Atlantic time, even though, being father west, it would extend the time that we have to wake up in the dark.

This week, I also mowed the front lawn and there were a couple of dandelions blossoming. Neither of these things are normal for November in our geography. It’s possible that it is a local sign of being in the Anthropocene, the proposed name for the current epoch of geologic time in which humans have significantly impacted our geologic/atmospheric systems. It does seem, though, that our colder fall temperatures have finally arrived. There had been a heavy frost, so I didn’t mow until late afternoon; still, there was a bit of frost close to the house where the sun hadn’t reached. Maybe now the grass will go dormant and we won’t have to mow again until spring.

This week also saw Election Day. Here in New York, we had only local races and some state-wide referenda, but we are observing an important milestone, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state, three years before the national amendment was adopted. To celebrate, we had special commemorative “I voted” stickers. A few states had more extensive state votes. The Democrats fared better than expected with exit polls suggesting that some of the voters were motivated by displeasure with how the Republicans are handling government on the federal level. Next year’s midterm elections will be very interesting.

I submitted my poems for the Binghamton Poetry Project’s fall anthology this week. Our reading will be on November 18th and the anthology will be available to us. I will post the poems here that weekend. All three were written from prompts during our sessions and all three deal with issues from the past, including one about my friend Angie. You can read a prior poem about Angie here.

All of these events have had me pondering time and the meaning of time, but none as poignantly as having my mom, known here as Nana, under hospice care. While I know intellectually that the future is not promised to any of us, dealing with end-of-life care issues makes the finite nature of our lives more concrete. It helps me to appreciate more the little joys that we can still share – bringing her a fresh batch of lemon pizzelles –  enjoying hot soup at lunchtime or Sunday dinners together – visits with my sisters, my daughters, and especially ABC, her first great-grandchild.

Watching Nana and ABC together sharpens my sense that there really is, as the adage says, no time like the present.

 

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another mass shooting

Another week, another horrific mass shooting in America.

Another post I did not want to have occasion to write.

As some of you know, I live in the Binghamton, New York area, which was the scene of a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. Because of this, I know that these crimes can happen anywhere in our country. We lost the sense of “it can’t happen here” years ago.

Every time there is another mass shooting, much of the public response seems the same. “It’s a mental health issue, not a gun issue.” (Unless it is Muslim shooter, in which case it is a terrorism issue, not a gun issue.) “It’s disrespectful to talk about gun control when people are in mourning.” Corollary: we can talk about gun control later, except that we as a country are always in mourning/recovery from a mass shooting because they happen so frequently, so the “appropriate time” for the discussion never arrives. “The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.” “The guns were all legally purchased.” “This (insert gun control proposal here) would not have stopped (insert particular mass shooting here) from happening.”

Enough. Time for a reality check.

The issue is complicated. It needs and deserves thoughtful analysis and strategies to prevent future incidences. It needs and deserves consistent attention from the public and from public officials, because it is about the health, safety, and well-being of individuals and the country.

Yes, the mental health treatment system in the United States needs to be more robust, affordable, and compassionate. The shooter at the ACA was known to be mentally ill; his father begged the state of New York not to issue him a gun license, but the laws at the time allowed it. To its credit, New York made some legal changes to tighten qualifications for gun licenses and accessories like high-capacity magazines. New York has also made mental health treatment more accessible, as has the Affordable Care Act on the national level. Anyone who is serious about preventing mass shootings and other forms of violence needs to be serious about funding outreach and access to mental health services.

This leads to discussion of another characteristic that many mass shooters share, a history of domestic abuse. It lends even more weight to the current growth in public awareness of how widespread sexual harassment and assault are in our society. Abuse of all sorts is at its roots an abuse of power. Firearms in the hands of an abuser multiply the destructive force to the victim/s. Yet, too often, perpetrators of domestic or sexual violence are not prevented from owning firearms and are not adequately treated for their mental health problems.

The second amendment to the US Constitution is usually quoted only in part, only about the right to keep and bear arms not being infringed. If one reads the whole amendment and looks at the historical context, it is clear that the intent of the framers had to do with militias, not an absolute individual right. In July of 2016, I had a guest viewpoint on gun control published in the local paper; you can read it here. I think it can help to consider other military arms at this point. Do you think the second amendment gives individuals the right to own a rocket-propelled grenade launcher or a nuclear missile? Those are “arms,” as well. Should a military assault rifle be considered differently?

…which leads to my next point. We need to look at what kind of guns and accessories are available for sale to the general public. Fully automatic weapons are banned, so why is it legal to sell bump stocks that make semi-automatics behave like fully automatic weapons? Hunting for game is an old and time-honored tradition and most people use hunting rifles for this purpose. Even for the minority of hunters who use assault-type weapons, it seems that high-capacity magazines are not necessary. If you need thirty bullets to take down your prey, you are not skilled enough be hunting. I think that weapons designed for military use should not be in the hands of civilians and hope that Congress will again consider an assault weapons ban.

There should be public health research about guns and gun violence. Federal funding for this kind of research has been highly restricted due to the gun lobby’s leverage with members of Congress. Sadly, the presence of a gun in a household increases the risk that someone in the household will die or be injured with a gun. There are many heart-breaking instances of children inadvertently killing a sibling or friend after finding and playing with a gun in their home. Most people do not know that the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides. Obviously, this ties into the mental health topic as well, but I don’t think that people who buy a gun for protection realize that owning a gun increases the chances that someone in the household will be injured or killed by a gun instead of protecting against that. People need all of these public health facts to inform their decisions and viewpoints.

Today – and every day – are appropriate ones to discuss and work on issues surrounding gun violence. There is never a day when someone is not mourning death or injury by guns, whether through mass shootings or other crimes, accident, or suicide. This is not an insoluble problem; nearly every other country has managed to cut gun deaths to low levels per capita.

The United States can do it, too.

Let’s begin today.

discouraging news

Don’t worry. This isn’t about any particular or personal news. Just a general statement of what it is like for me and for many others in the United States these days.

Watching/reading/listening to news is very fraught and discouraging. Sometimes, such as when there is violence, the news is sad and discouraging in and of itself.

Just about any news story about national government is discouraging as the dysfunction that has been in evidence in recent years has only deepened. This is ironic because the Republicans control Congress and the presidency, which usually means that legislation would pass easily. However, there is so much dissension and confusion within the party and between the president and Congressional leaders that nothing of significance is getting through the process to become law.

In the not-too-distant past, the majority and minority party would cooperate and compromise to pass legislation with a goodly majority of bipartisan votes, but that has fallen by the wayside, leaving very discouraging gridlock in its wake.

One of the things that disturbs me most is how many people are publicly denying known and provable facts. For example, some say that Russia’s interference in the US elections didn’t take place and is just an excuse for Clinton’s loss, but Russia’s role in the DNC hack was publicly known and reported on months before the election. Further evidence of hacking by Russia has also been proven in attacks on various election systems in at least two dozen states. Additionally, we have seen Russia use the same tactics in other countries.

At least as troubling is the ugliness of attacks on individuals and groups of people. Obviously, this is not a new tactic either, but some people are emboldened by the president’s twitter attacks and by other high-profile leaders who namecall and stereotype or even engage in hate speech against racial, ethnic, religious, or gender groups. Public discourse gets diverted away from civil discussion of issues and is dragged into personal or group attacks.

In the midst of all this, we have the many disturbing stories of sexual harassment and assault being unearthed after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, showing how prevalent such stories are. Although the stories are horrifying and sad, the #MeToo movement feels empowering and hopeful to me. Maybe we have finally reached a critical juncture where everyone in the society realizes what sexual harassment and assault look, sound, and feel like so that we can actually put a stop to it.

This also reinforces for me my broader commitment to both feminism and social justice causes. When you see how many individuals’ lives are adversely affected by discrimination, abuse, lost opportunities, violence, health problems, etc., you can more readily see that we are not living up to our societal commitments to fairness, equality, and “the pursuit of happiness,” nor are we following the Constitutional call to “promote the general welfare.”  For me as a Catholic, social justice work is also part of upholding doctrine on the dignity of each person and of all types of work and workers  and on the call to care for all creation with special care being given to those most vulnerable.

The disturbing news of late shows how much work there is to be done.

I hope you will join me and the millions of others in these efforts.

Harvey

I join with the millions of people in the US and around the world in sending thoughts, prayers, and charitable donations to those affected by tropical system Harvey. The amount of damage from the winds and historic amount of rainfall is mind-boggling. Recovery will take years and some locations will not recover at all.

When my area suffered two record floods of the Susquehanna River, I learned a lot of lessons that, while our geographic and demographic situations differ, applies to Texas and Louisiana now:
– There is no way to adequately prepare for a flood of that magnitude. No amount of prepositioning of supplies and personnel could cover such a vast area with so much destruction over some many days. Yes, lessons can be learned for the future, but don’t waste time now casting aspersions. There is too much work to do.
– Accept help! I volunteered in a flood relief center in my town after the 2011 flood. We sometimes had problems getting people to accept the food, cleaning supplies, and other help we had available. They wanted to forgo it in order to leave it for someone worse off than they. We had to gently explain that everything had been donated to help those affected by the flood and that that included them; there was plenty to go around. On a larger scale, this goes to the question of whether the states accept help from other states and countries. They should graciously accept offers to help, in the same spirit in which they have offered help in past disasters. Obviously, there needs to be coordination so that donations mesh well. I know that the New York governor has offered the services of our Air National Guard because the need is so great and Texas has already mobilized all its available forces.
– Don’t argue about whether it is a 500-year flood or a 1000-year flood. Those probabilities were based on historic records that no longer apply due to climate changes. My area suffered two record floods in five years. Areas flooded that had never flooded before. A number of lots that had had homes on them have now been bought out and converted to green space because the flooding threat is too high to have people continue to live there. If you are going to rebuild in flood-prone areas, you have to be smart and elevate homes, build protective wetlands, and minimize impermeable surfaces. Which brings me to my last point…

– Accept the science about how storm strength and mobility are affected by global warming. Michael Mann helps to explain the factors that made Harvey so destructive. (More information and links can be found here.) Yes, there have always been category 4 hurricanes, but the warmer surface temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico and the higher sea level made the rainfall and storm surge higher than they would have been in years past. The lack of steering currents kept the storm spinning in the same area, dropping over three feet (one meter) of rain over a large area. This same mechanism had a hand in the first record flood here in 2006, which was caused by a stationary front, as was a flood a few years ago in the Boulder, Colorado area.

Part of what we all need to do going forward is pay attention to preparing for increasingly severe weather. We need to think about resiliency in our building, zoning, and planning. We need to look at restoring natural aids, like barrier islands, dunes, and wetlands. We can place offshore wind turbines strategically to help blunt high winds. We can move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible so that warming does not cross over into the catastrophic category. We can’t afford wishful thinking about the latest severe storm being once-in-a-lifetime. We need to work together to help each other recover and prepare for the future.

 

Charlottesville

On Saturday, my son-in-law L headed back to the UK to comply with the terms of his visa which only allowed 90 days to be here for ABC’s birth and early weeks. We all miss him and have been adjusting to the household without him, while, of course, responding to the changing needs and sleep patterns of a two-month-old. That and helping out my parents are quite enough to occupy me, but I felt that I had to post about the current state of affairs in the US, which is adding stress, fear, and sadness to our lives.

Donald Trump is exposing our country to danger with his saber-rattling. I hope that Congress will make clear that war declarations are their province, not the president’s. There should be no first strike against North Korea, Venezuela, or any other country without action from Congress, as the US Constitution requires.

I have long believed that Donald Trump has neither the intellect nor the temperament nor the judgment to be an effective, just, and moral president. Sadly, his reactions to Charlottesville have only reinforced this. His press conference yesterday was wrong on the facts and unconscionably upheld the alt-right/neo-nazi/white supremacist lies about their own history, motivations, and current aspirations. (I do not intend to go over this in detail or to engage in comment exchanges about this, but check out the reporting from Vice to hear the alt-right views directly from their leaders.)

This is a time when all members of Congress should clearly denounce the president for his statements and redouble their efforts to uphold civil rights and religious freedom. (The footage of torch-bearing men chanting against Jews was especially chilling.) They should also offer support to the family and friends of Heather Heyer, to all those who were injured, and to Charlottesville, which is not forthcoming from the White House as we expect in times of tragedy.

Vice-president Pence and the Cabinet should convene to discuss invoking the 25th Amendment, which was added to the Constitution to defend against an unfit president.

I do want to remind people that this is not just about some Confederate statues. These statues were not erected in the 1860s to commemorate those who fought and died. They are not battlefield monuments or historic sites. Most were placed in the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan was so strong that it staged marches in Washington, DC, or during the 1950s-60s, at the height of the civil rights marches. They were put in public places in order to intimidate African-Americans and anyone who supported civil rights for all. No one is proposing that we forget about the Civil War, but we need to learn about the complexities of its causes and aftermath, an endeavor which is not served by a statue of a general on a horse at a courthouse or pubic square that was erected to scare people of color.

Violence and bigotry are unacceptable. Love trumps hate.

As Nelson Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom,  “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

US Healthcare Update

Overnight, the Senate defeated the Affordable Care Act repeal bills. It wasn’t pretty, with 49 Senators willing to take health insurance away from millions of Americans, but 51 Senators stood up for us.

Now, we need Congressmembers from across the spectrum to engage with each other to craft legislation that improves and expands the Affordable Care Act so that everyone has access to affordable, quality health care. There are already some bill drafts that do that available as a starting point.

Let’s go.

Plan C? Seriously?

Last night, more Republican Senators made it clear that they would not vote to open debate on the latest version of the health care bill.

Within a couple of hours, Majority Leader McConnell announced that he would bring up a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but delay its taking effect for two years, during which time the Congress would need to pass a replacement plan for the president to sign.

This is a bad idea.

The last time the Congress tried something similar was during a budget impasse. They put in place a sequester program that capped budget allocations for both discretionary and defense spending. The theory was that both parties would want to cooperate so they could allocate more money for their budget priorities. The reality was that no agreement was reached and there were some years that Congress didn’t even pass its appropriations bills, but used a series of continuing resolutions to fund the various departments.

This does not give high confidence that Congress would pass a replacement bill before the deadline.

Insurance companies and health care facilities are upset because this would create so much uncertainty for them.

The general public is concerned because the repeal is expected to immediately raise premiums and reduce the number of people who can afford insurance.

There are senators across the political spectrum calling for a new process to begin, involving input from all senators, along with public health professionals and the public, to craft health care reforms that will increase the availability and affordability of health care.

I hope that Senator McConnell will choose to engage in this more cooperative process which is in line with the way the Senate has traditionally operated.