Category Archives: thoughts

Art and Eyesight

I live in an Impressionist painting. Lines and colors blur. I see no sharp edges. More Pointillism than clearly defined points.

Strings of Christmas lights increase in diameter ten-fold in a diffused fashion. Streetlights and headlights sparkle and spread. Candles are better, bright lights hurt.

I see spots before my eyes! And squiggly lines dart about. I see something in my peripheral vision. No, it’s all in my head.

Faces are a mystery if they are too far away. Far away is only a few feet. Others must think I’m a snob when I can’t read their facial expression from a short distance. My eyes just fail to read a smile, a frown, a grimace. Sorry, I’m blind to your emotions.

That’s my world without eyeglasses. Thick and heavy ones for the hopelessly myopic. This is my artistic vision. I can’t see the scientific narrative.

 

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Racism and the White Woman, 2

I’m from Detroit. A writer of a recent Detroit newspaper article would argue with me on this point since I never actually lived on any street within the city. I am a phony because I only lived near the city of Detroit.

When I lived in Warren, Michigan, I could look across 8 Mile and see Detroit from my kitchen window. (No, I do not hang out with Sarah Palin.)

Before that, I lived in Hamtramck a couple of blocks from the Detroit city limit. Hamtramck is a small city that is completely surrounded by Detroit.

The street I lived on in Hamtramck created and at the same time broke down some racial barriers. I lived on one side of the street where all the houses were occupied by white people. Across the street, all the houses were occupied by black people. Divided right down the middle. At the age of four, all the white and black people sitting on their front porches sort of looked the same to me.

One of my first observations of racism took place in the women’s clothing section of a department store. I was with my mother and grandmother. Two teenage girls debated over the monumental decision of which blouse they should buy.

My grandmother spoke in Polish to my mother, “Just look at that, black people are shopping here!” Her words implied that these black teenagers should be banned from certain places and activities. This is the first time I remember being fed a racist thought.

This was the late 1950’s and within a few years all the houses on my divided street were torn down. The dismantling continued into the 1960’s.

Racism and the White Woman

A Kenyan-born professor taught an African Studies class I took at an American college. One time he mentioned that the American Slave trade forever skewed the relationship between Europeans and Africans. The relationship was healthy between them before the horrible trade began and should have remained so. But the growing market for slaves in the Americas altered the dynamics.

This was an offhand comment and the professor didn’t dwell on it, nor make it a political point. It was a basic observation and lament. Many years later, this one comment remains vivid in my mind.

Africans traded worldwide as equal economic partners with other countries and continents. Advanced civilizations flourished on the African soil. The Library of Alexandria in Egypt was once the largest and grandest in the Mediterranean world. Slave did not define an African.

And yet here we are. Racism is central to the American fabric according to some groups. Even if racism is diminishing, it is not gone.

Africa has a rich history. Racism was the result and not the cause of slavery. Slave traders dehumanized Africans so that they could treat this one race as if they were property. Slavery obscures the historical Africa.

The real story of Africa is not victimhood. A sense of healing in the future might begin if we can revisit the past.

Obama: A True Story

Five years ago, my husband’s cousin in Florida and his wife were huge supporters of Obama. My husband feared that Obama was all style and no substance. He was magnetic and electable, and maybe that is all that matters.

Just last month when we visited the cousin, his tune changed dramatically. His son must purchase his own health insurance since his employer does not offer it. He needs insurance for himself and his family and the Affordable Care Act is way too costly for him to purchase. So his wife is keeping her job at a drugstore in order to purchase the store’s insurance for the family. After daycare and insurance costs, she makes very little per week, but it is a far cheaper route than the ACA. The cousin had hoped that a President Obama would make life better for his children. Instead he said he is unhappy with this bleak future he sees for them.

The ACA may be wildly successful as the administration claims, but this is one real instance that it has disappointed.

The cousin has not changed his politics. Now he is interested in Elizabeth (just look at her, you can tell she’s Native American) Warren. His ethnic observation, not mine. Now he is hoping for guaranteed pensions for all employees provided by every business. New disappointments on the horizon?

 

 

 

On Fire or the Dinosaurs Died So That We Can Drive SUVs

Prometheus stole the sacred fire for mankind and we can’t live without it.

The Industrial Revolution replaced the ancient external fires with the internal fires of machines. The dirty desire for energy increased. The world’s insatiable demand for fire pollutes, which is good for making machines chug along, but bad for living things.

Some essential fires we have become addicted to:

  • Wood → Early mankind kindled open fires for warmth, protection, and food. All this, depending on who you consult, was a primary cause of global warming. The emissions from burning wood contain carbon monoxide and soot. The EPA says wood burning stoves are responsible for 5% of the smallest, deadliest particles emitted into the air in the U.S.
  • Coal → One of fossil fuels that powered the Industrial Revolution, it is the leading cause of pollutants such as smog, acid rain, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, mercury, arsenic, and lead. Coal mining disrupts the ecology and endangers the lives of miners daily.
  • Oil → Another fossil fuel that fueled the Industrial Revolution is a non-renewable, energy rich hydrocarbon. Burning oil pollutes with carbon dioxide, sulfates, and nitrates. Oil drilling and extraction disturbs the water and land. Accidental spills at the drill site or during land and water transport disrupts ecology. The disposal of products made from oil, such as plastics, creates more waste problems.
  • Water → Fire from water, one of the oldest ways to produce energy. Water wheels, mills, and dams alter the habitats of fish and restricts water passage. Water power pollutes less, but to be effective,  great quantities of water and land are necessary and that comes at a great financial cost.
  • Geothermal → While drilling for geothermal energy, harmful gas can escape from deep within the earth. Also after the expense that comes with building a geothermal plant, the heat within the earth can stop providing heated water for years at a time, making this an undependable form of energy.
  • Natural Gas → Natural gas is odorless and colorless and mostly consists of methane. It burns cleaner than coal and oil. It releases 45% less carbon dioxide than coal and 30% less than oil. It burns with no soot or sulfur dioxide and is widely available. It is lighter than air so when leaks occur it can dissipate with a lower chance of explosion. Still it is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Other drawbacks are transportation problems whether through pipelines, tankers, or barges. If used in cars and trucks, the mileage is lower than gasoline.
  • Nuclear → The newest and possibly most controversial of all energy sources. Will it provide safe, abundant energy for years to come or kill us all? Patrick Moor, an early member of Greenpeace, protested against U.S. nuclear testing in 1971. After 15 years with Greenpeace he left and became an advocate for some of his prior environmental targets. He now believes that nuclear energy is the only technology besides fossil fuels that is a reliable energy source. Nuclear energy proponents tout the safety record of the industry. They say Chernobyl was an anomaly and the rest of the would uses safer methods. Natural disasters care nothing for risk management methods as Japan came to understand. Besides, some nuclear waste lives practically forever. We can barely handle landfill toxins, how will nuclear waste play out?
  • Solar → Gathering solar energy with solar panels creates little pollution in itself aside from the manufacture and shipping of the panels. It is a quiet source of energy and can be used easier and cheaper in remote locations. The installation of solar panels can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a house.  The energy savings payback can take years. Cloudy weather and pollution can hinder solar cell efficiency. In the deserts of the American west, people oppose solar energy farms since they spoil the desert scenery.
  • Wind → At last, windmills must be our salvation. Yet people complain that they too spoil the scenery of the land and sea where they take root. People living near windmills claim that the turbines are a visual and auditory threat. Some people insist that the noisy whirling blades cause them great stress. A wind farm on the horizon reduces tourism and lowers home values in the areas they go up.  Wind turbines must exist in areas with the strongest winds which are often the same places that birds migrate and nest. The eagle that tore into the liver of Prometheus each day, now gets torn apart by the blades of our modern-day windmills.

The fires we need for basic survival and to feed the machinery that we love come with destructive forces. Perhaps Prometheus and not Pandora unleashed the real evils in this world.

Without fire and the technology it unleashed, humankind may have failed to thrive and died with a very different history. Certainly the planet would be cleaner today.

I know a 24-year-old nurse that gives her time to Doctors Without Borders and cares about the health of the planet. One time she surprised me with an offhand comment. She mentioned that she is tired of her human legs and arms which are so weak. She wants the strength of a machine, a bionic women of sorts I guess.

Science fiction and reality fuse people with machines. What human/machine ratio would cease to view energy-driven pollution as a crisis? Today the ubiquitous phone/computer may as well be embedded within the bodies of my friends and relatives. At some point, no one may care to look out a window to enjoy a Goldfinch perched on a tree branch. The windows to the soul are owned by Microsoft.

Weekly Writing Challenge: I Remember the Coffee

My friend wants me to add a vitamin powder to my water and drink it in the morning instead of coffee. She said it’s healthy and makes you feel better than coffee. I’m not too sure about this idea. Morning would be even less palatable without the smell, taste, and ritual of that lovely brown liquid.

You see, I’ve been a coffee drinker from way back. Practically from breast to coffee cup. I think my grandparents brought this coffee-is-good-for-kids idea from Europe and my mother kept it going.

My mother and grandparents firmly believed that a hot or warm beverage was always healthier than any cold one. They avoided cold drinks. My grandfather’s favorite drink was hot water with a bit of milk mixed in. He lived to the age of 93 so maybe they were on to something.

My mother was shocked to learn that kindergarten classes offered a cold carton of milk halfway through the day. She insisted that the teacher remove my milk from the refrigerator about an hour before snack time so that it could turn lukewarm. Soon other mothers thought that was a good idea and three or four other milk cartons were warming up with mine. How many kids began to hate me at this point, I’m not sure.

In first grade, I had a Disney lunch box with a matching thermos. One day my mother filled the Disney thermos with coffee. During lunch, the thermos started to leak. I knew that everyone would discover my dirty little coffee-drinking secret.   The teacher set my leaky thermos in the sink while the other kids watched and speculated. Maybe it’s hot cocoa some of them said. But the coffee smell couldn’t be disguised. This coffee incident made the whole class think I was one strange kid. But it wasn’t me doing the brewing and pouring, I was just the recipient of drinking what “was good for me.”

My memories and addiction make letting go of my morning coffee nearly impossible. Yet I do rebel a little. Sometimes I order iced coffee at the coffee shop. My grandmother would never have understood cold coffee. It would have been her turn to be shocked and confused.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/writing-challenge-remember/

DIA on the Brink: Does Man Live by Bread Alone?

Detroit is living a real life ethical dilemma these days. If a city is burning, do we pull out the old woman or do we rescue that portrait of Van Gogh?

Detroit went into bankruptcy last week. The emergency manager in Detroit, appointed by the State of Michigan, has been eyeing the vast and valuable art collection held by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The city owns this museum and its assets are potentially up for grabs as creditors and city pensioners alike look for some good money coming out of a bad situation.

Union contracts can be rewritten. Creditors may get pennies on the dollar for their investments. The retirees may find their pensions slashed. Money is needed for turning the streetlights back on that have been dark too long; money is needed for the razing of thousands of blighted buildings; money is needed for police, fire, and EMS services that seldom serve city residents in a timely manner. The city population keeps dropping and the tax base can’t support the over $17 billion debt.

The DIA has one of the best art collections in America, and both tourists and residents would feel the pain if it was dismantled.

But real people may get hurt while the art still hangs on the wall.

A letter writer to the editor of a Detroit newspaper said that if he had to make a choice between gutting retiree benefits or selling city assets, he would be saying,  “What is the opening bid for this beautiful Van Gogh?”

This is hard for me since I find the DIA to be vital and relevant. I need art and bread, and I believe (perhaps naively) that art can uplift everyone in society. Detroit without its great museums, would be even sadder.

So what’s it gonna be? Should the Degas and Matisse survive? Or does the old woman have any need for a stinking painting?