Obligations and calling: decision point

I have had a strange life, so far. In most respects, I have been very lucky. I admit that, and I honor the people who have helped me get to where I am. Part of how I honor them is to keep trying to be my best, and to give my best to the world. The I Am UU ministry is part of me trying hard to give back to the world in a way that promotes the best in humanity.

Another way is that I try to return what favors I can. I give back to those who have given to me with glee and fervor, because I want to encourage the doing of good and reward those who do it.

I was adopted. I was days old when my parents claimed me, and I have only ever known one family, and it has always been a part of my life. It was not a perfect family. It isn’t one that I am now particularly proud of. I am sure that a lot of liberals raised in Texas have those feelings some times. Family still matters, as a part of who I am and how I got here, and family is an obligation that I cannot ignore.

To that end, I took on the care of my mother several years ago. She has cancer that she doesn’t wish to treat, and she has dementia at a very young age. At 67, she has the body and mind that her doctors compare to patients in their 80s. Being her caretaker has been hard, and at times rewarding. More over, her income being part of the household has allowed me to create the I Am UU project, staying at home to handle her appointments and help her with daily tasks as well as those of my kids.

My ability to care for her is now stretched to the breaking point. I will not be able to keep it up another full year, and we may not make it to the end of this one.

This is hard to admit, because I know that we cannot afford to put her in a facility that will be anywhere near as nice as the home we’ve worked to provide. I want her to have a quality of life, but it has come the point where I cannot provide that here, either.

That part is internal. It is something I will have to deal with. It is hard, but I need to admit that the time will come, soon, that I cannot do what she needs here at home, and I will have to trust skilled professionals to help her in her daily life. I want what every American wants for their family: one more Christmas (or relevant winter-time holiday). I don’t know if that is realistic.

Another serious hurdle is the financial burden that we will face when her income is removed from our household. We moved into the house and the neighborhood that we did because we needed room for my Mom. We love it here, now, and more over, moving would be a huge expense all at once. In order to pay the rent, I need an income to replace what we are loosing. More than just making up that income, finding a regular job will mean paying for daycare, as well as a few other expenses we have been able to avoid thanks to me being home, like not absolutely needing a second car so far.

I am facing a serious dilemma: I cannot continue to grow the I Am UU project that I have come to love, and will likely have to scale it back quite a bit if I have to find a regular job.  I will not be able to continue to give what I have come to think of as the best of me. I fight my demons now by knowing that what I am doing matters to a lot of people, and matters a great deal to some.

So, this is me, begging. Help me save my family AND the one accomplishment outside my family that I am truly proud of. Help me do the right thing for my mother without doing the wrong thing for myself. Help me find a way to support my ministry, or to find a paying gig with similar benefit to the world. I put this out there to the universe, because I need all the help I can get.

Faitify, an all UU crowd funding site, has launched, and I am hopeful that it will change the way that Unitarian Universalist think about funding, because the 1st report on GA from UU World clearly shows that we need to. Sadly, Faitify is set up for goal-oriented projects needing one large push to get started or to move to the next level.

I would love to have the relative security of people pledging small monthly gifts via Patreon, but will gladly accept gifts through Square Cash (sign up now and they’ll give you a dollar!). As the only designer on the I Am UU team so far, I also get some money from the purchases on Cafe Press, though it is a very small percentage (on purpose; I want people to have these things to wear). I want to keep this ministry going. I want to honor the trust that these thousands of people have given me by choosing to read, comment on, and share this content. I want to keep reaching people, because I know that I have helped people find Unitarian Universalism through this work, both as new visitors and as UUs who needed a push to deepen their connection. I need something like that to be proud of in my life.

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30 Days of Gratitude: Nov. 14

Posting earlier today, because this new front has blown in a lot more than cold air. I know exactly what I am thankful for today: Cetirizine (Zyrtec).

(BTW, did you know that AMS has a Facebook page? A Material Sojourn)

30 Days of Gratitude: Nov. 6

I am going to run out of interesting ways to start these posts. Today, I am thankful for Medicare, without which, my mother might be dead, and certainly would not have had a medical doctor and a therapist come to the house today and check on her. My parents lost everything between 2000 and 2005, and if it were for those earned benefits, managed and guaranteed by the US government, I might not be able to take care of her.

30 Days of Gratitude: Nov. 3

Today, I am thankful for duct tape and ibuprofen. Any other details would render this post less appreciative.

Equality of Opportunity: Raising the tide instead of the yachts.

American conservatives feel that they have to cut off benefits to the unemployed and the poor because they think very little of people, in general. They believe that many, possibly even most people would rather sit at home and watch television than work. They don’t care that there aren’t jobs (as evidenced by their failure to do anything about creating them). They don’t care that there are mothers receiving assistance because it would cost more to put kids in daycare than you can make at a minimum wage job. They honestly don’t care about the facts on the ground, as it were, because they believe people are making excuses to not work.

Now, they may, in fact, understand otherwise. They might just be playing to a base that like to hear such things, but this is too cynical, even for my blog, and I have to assume that they are acting in the best interest of the country as they see it. I will try, then, to educate the conservatives who find their way here.

The fact is that there is very little evidence of what people in a country with western culture would do if they didn’t have to work. What we do know is that there are a lot of mothers receiving government support for their families. According to the Census Bureau, SNAP kept 4 million people out of poverty last year. Two thirds of those people are children, elderly, or disabled, which is to say people who are not expected to work. Indeed, the GOP has made noise about rolling back child labor standards, but that is another post.

In fact, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities tell us “Contrary to “Entitlement Society” Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households“. 90%, for those who like numerical notation, of the money spent on entitlement programs in the USA goes to people who are working or who cannot work a full-time job because of age or disability. There is very little fraud, and most of these people are doing exactly what is expected of them.

So, what about those few people who are “gaming the system?” That surfer from California, for instance? Yeah… every system has some flaws and every program will be abused in some way. Isn’t it worth knowing that in the greatest country in the world, people aren’t starving to death? Is that really something to be ashamed of?

Finally, I did say that there was little evidence to show what might happen if people didn’t have to work; how society would look if people knew they would be fed and housed and that no entrepreneurial, educational, or artistic risk would leave them destitute. There is exactly one case that could be of real interest to us in the USA.

In Canada, in the 1970s, there was an experiment conducted by Canada’s elected liberals in Dauphin, Manitoba. They made sure that no one in that jurisdiction was poor. Called “Mincome”, every poor adult in the area was paid by the national and Provincial governments, to insure that no one lived below the poverty line. The participants were encouraged to work and earn for themselves, having their supplement reduced only  50 cents for every dollar they earned. The government wondered if people would keep working. Most did. Employment went down in 2 areas: New mothers and teenagers. New mothers spent more time with their children. Teenagers spent more time in school, as evidenced by higher graduation rates.

It allowed people to take the jobs that were available, based on whether they thought it would be good for them, rather than if it made the most money. People could wait for the opening they really wanted. It meant a lot more than simple employment, though. According to Dr. Evelyn Forget, a researcher at the University of Manitoba who is looking at the recently unsealed documents from the 4 year experiment, “We already know that hospitalizations went down and people stayed in school longer.” Hospitalizations went down? “When you walk around a hospital, it’s pretty clear that a lot of the time what we’re treating are the consequences of poverty,” she says.

Her research shows that “In the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent. Fewer people went to the hospital with work-related injuries and there were fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. There were also far fewer mental health visits.” Those are some pretty impressive results.

In short, this program only applied to 1000 families, about 30% of the population of the rural town. It ultimately cost more than $17 million. It also resulted in an 8.5 per cent decrease in healthcare costs, which was be substantial savings in a country with nationalized health care. In short, people were happier, healthier and, at least arguably, more productive, not less.

Given the limited facts available on the issue, it is unconscionable to let people live in fear for their homes, their families, and their health. It is within the power of the American Government to create a country where every person is permitted to educate themselves to the full extent of their desire to learn. We could be funding the greatest inventors and entrepreneurs by letting even those born to poverty take the risks that the rich take for granted. We could live up to our presumption of superiority by funneling our resources into our people, all of them, to see what Americans can achieve when they live in hope instead of worry. There is a loud, but well funded, minority working to ensure that we do not. That is the privileged class, trying to hang on to their advantage. It isn’t American, and we need to put an end to it. It is fine to reward success, even to the 7th generation, but we need to equalize the opportunity and institutionalize mobility. Only then can we return to our history of advancement and leadership and pull out of the political and cultural nose dive we currently face.

“Mincome” sources:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/dauphins-great-experiment.html

http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4100

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/1970s-manitoba-poverty-experiment-called-a-success-1.868562

Popular fallacies in the debate on Gun Control, Part 2

Last week, I published a post about popular fallacies being used as debate points in the current, and hopefully unrelenting, effort by the American majority to change our laws and our culture relating to firearms and their accessories. It racked up several comments, and it was taken by one person as an invite to feed me even more such misguided wisdom. That post has been very popular reading, though I don’t know if anyone has read it and learned anything new.

Today, I would like to address a few more of the red herrings and strawmen that keep showing up on the side of people who just don’t want things to change for reasons that, generally, have nothing to do with the arguments being proffered.

First off, let’s talk about things that do not actually cause gun violence.

Television and movies do not create killers. They do desensitize people to some degree, and they do glamorize guns. These are problems, but no more so now than in the 50s, when television shows with titles like Gun Smoke and The Rifleman were on the air. The Lone Ranger was a vigilante with a gun before there were moving pictures in the living room. Clearly, then, the problem isn’t just the visibility of firearms in entertainment.

(Edit to add: Wouldn’t reducing the number of guns also mean fewer guns on television and in movies? The British version of “Law & Order” has to take in to account that the police in London don’t generally carry firearms. That is how they make it look believable.)

Similarly,  we cannot blame video games. Certainly, many gamers develop certain skills in coordination and tactics. almost none of these skills would be applicable to a mass shooting attempt. The controls for an X-Box are nothing like the trigger and sight of a real firearm. Gamers aren’t even shown the actual loading of a weapon as the magazine is slapped into place. The people who commit  insane crimes have access to real weapons and time to practice with them. Their time with the video game might exacerbate some instability in their brain, but it does not train them to kill in the real world any more than World of Warcraft trains you to wield a sword or axe. The skills are far more applicable to piloting a killer drone than to firing the weapons simulated in First Person Shooters. For further proof that games don’t create crime: the Japanese spend fully 10% more on video games per year than Americans, despite the US having nearly 250% of Japan’s population. Japan has 1% of the gun homicides that the US does, along with a stronger sense of civics and 87% fewer guns per person. Clearly the guns are a factor.

Let me be clear: the Second Amendment is not more important to American freedom than the First Amendment.

Even after I dismiss violent entertainment as a major contributor to gun violence, I will give you a remedy for the impact it does have: civics and empathy. We need to instill in our kids the sense that they are part of a community and that they have responsibilities to that community, and the community has responsibilities to them, too. We tell them that they are not alone, and we teach them that people are not superior or inferior to others except through their choices and actions.

We absolutely need to address the problems with our mental health system, but we just had a huge fight over healthcare reform, and it didn’t exactly come down on the side of massive expansion in services to the poor or in the area of metal health and treatment. Now seems a strange time to take on healthcare again, but I am in favor of doing more for those in need.

I purposely avoided one point in my last post: the seemingly ancient trope that “Guns don’t kill people.” To that, I have to ask: What is the purpose of a gun? If not to injure and kill, then what is the point? To look threatening? That comes from the knowledge that since the invention of the single shot Chinese fire lance, which was invented in the 10th century, people have been refining firearms to be more accurate, more lethal, and more efficient at killing, or at least seriously injuring, other living things. Sure, there are other ways to do that, but there are few things currently available to the public that are more capable of killing large numbers of people, and the things that are, like explosives, don’t have the same mythology. That is why we don’t see people emulating Timothy McVeigh: these crazy people and gang members and vigilantes don’t want to kill people, they want to shoot people.

“Criminals are criminals, and they aren’t going to care what the laws are”, I hear over and over, but we all know this to be untrue. Most criminals work pretty hard to not get caught. They care a great deal about the laws, and they do the things that get them the greatest reward for the least risk. If we make it harder to get guns, then fewer of them will have guns. If we threaten higher penalties for illegally obtaining a gun, then fewer people will be willing to risk it. If we start prosecuting straw purchasers and shutting down the small number of dealers who “loose” to criminals over half of the guns used in violent crime in the US, then we will have less violent crime. We aren’t, generally, talking about terrorists and anarchists trying to bring down western civilization. Sure, those people are out there, and they make headlines, but they are not the biggest contributors to gun crime.

Plenty of people with some grasp of history ask about how prohibition only led to more illegal activity in the 1920, and that smuggling would keep up the supply of guns. First, 78%of the guns used in criminal activity in 1994 that could be traced originated in the United States. Smuggling could not supply those numbers, and would increase the prices drastically. Similarly, most of the illegal alcohol consumed in the 1920s was illegally produced in the US, which is a difficult process requiring leaving the orange juice in the fridge too long. There is no correlation to be drawn between alcohol prohibition and firearms.

“People will just use another weapon, though,” you might be thinking. Certainly, there are those who will. That isn’t really the important part of the question, though. The question is what will changing weapons do to the victims. Gun violence is 5 times more deadly than knives. You cannot have a drive-by knifing. Just this week, a man went on a stabbing rampage through a college here in Texas. He stabbed 14 people, 2 were critically injured. No one was killed. He was stopped simply by one brave young man tackling him. This was a disturbed individual by all reports, having thought about a stabbing rampage for years. He killed no one.

Along with all of the crimes that would either be less deadly or outright impossible to commit with another weapon, we need to look at the incidents of where the ease of access to a gun makes a situation deadly when it would have only been violent, or the many that would never have happened at all. Domestic violence with a gun in the house is 5 times more likely to result in a murder; so much so that half of the women murdered with guns in the U.S. in 2010 were killed at the hands of their intimate partners.

In 2008, the last year for which I can find numbers, there were 680 accidental shooting deaths in the United States. More than 15,500 additional shooting injuries. Each day approximately five children were injured or killed on a nationwide basis as a result of handguns. Most of these were accidents, and not targeted shootings.

Finally, we need to address one of the most difficult areas of gun violence in the US: Gun suicides are almost twice as common as homicides (19,392 to 11,078 in 2010). Gun ownership makes you more likely to commit suicide. Again, the argument that comes up is that these people will just find another way to kill themselves. The fact, though, is that a great many people who attempt suicide aren’t addicts, terminally ill, or clinically mentally ill. A great many suicides are, more or less, spontaneous and unplanned. As the link tells it, proof of this exists in the history of England, where the switch from deadly coal gas being piped to residential ovens to less lethal and more sickening (thus less comfortable to breath long enough to be fatal) natural gas. In making the switch, the rate of successful suicide went down by about 1/3, or exactly the percentage that had resulted from people sticking their heads in the oven in the first pace. Similarly, would-be jumpers who were stopped by the police from jumping off the Golden Gate between 1937 and 1971, which was 515 individuals in all, were researched for the book “Where are They Now” by Richard Seiden. He found that just 6 percent of those pulled off the bridge went on to kill themselves. The overwhelming majority weren’t acting out some careful plan to end unendurable suffering. Similarly, then, by making guns less available to people in general, and not just criminals and the certifiably mentally ill, we can reduce the number of suicides.

One fact that is on the side of the gun lobby that you hear almost endlessly is that gun homicides are down, and down drastically, in the last few years. Many of the people touting that fact claim that the rise in gun ownership is responsible. That is odd, sense the rise in gun ownership is due almost entirely to the decreasing number of gun owners buying more and more gun, to the point that 20 percent of gun owners own 65 percent of the guns. The fact is that assault rates are up, as are property crimes in many “right to carry” states. So-called “Stand-Your-Ground” laws can be traced to several incidents where an armed individual seemed to provoke others, in one case leading to the aggressor actually being convicted of murder in Texas. It seems unlikely that he would have been this brazen if he hadn’t convinced himself that the law was on his side.

The fact is that guns do kill people. They make it possible for 5 and 6 year olds to kill. The NRA brags that tweens can handle an AR-51. They make it possible for a person in a car to kill 2 or 12 or 20 people without ever slowing down. They make death easy, and they kill people who would not otherwise be in any danger from the person with the gun. There is no other class of weapons that this is true for, because that is the intent of the gun maker: a tool designed to make killing so easy that an unlucky toddler can become a killer.

There are certainly other factors, but the gun is the common denominator in these suicides, infant deaths, drive-by shootings, and mass murders that no other weapon will replace. It is proven by history, mathematics, and the obvious evidence of the daily news. There are other avenues that might each address some of these circumstances, but none that will be more effective or less controversial. In short, real reform on gun ownership and accessories could make a difference in all of these areas and is much simpler than trying to implement changes to the mental health system, the education system, and censoring movies, television, and video games.

Promoting the General Welfare: what it takes to be free.

I started a project some time ago to address the preamble to the US constitution. This seems like a very fine time to return to the next point, and maybe a little topical. Let me, finally, address the idea of “General Welfare” .

Webster defines it, partly, as ” the enjoyment of health and the common blessings of life”. This is truly the way I feel it was meant. Education, health care, and a fair shot at turning your life into something you are proud of.

Health and general well being for every citizen, maybe even resident, of the most powerful country in the world shouldn’t be too lofty a goal. We should be able to take care of our people, most especially our children, body and mind. No one should suffer needlessly. Health care is a virtue we should offer up at least as readily as we claim to offer education, and both should be healed to higher standards than what we have today if we are really going to promote freedom and well being. No person who is restrained in body or mind can be free.

The only thing holding us back is some completely misguided “us versus them” mentality that requires proponents to believe that there is a limited amount of success to be had here in the US, and that by holding others back, they will be more likely to get a larger share. It requires them to call the poor “lazy”, the uneducated “dumb”, and the underprivileged “greedy”. It requires that we alienate other Americans, and try to tell them that they don’t deserve a better life than what fate handed them, or they would have been handed a better one. It requires that we, the people striving to do better for ourselves, fight with each other rather than calling out the people who have money, fame, or power, and demanding that they share what they have won only by exploiting the system and everyone else in the country. That isn’t to say that they don’t deserve more for playing the game well, but that they have to allow other people some chance to play also.

So, we need healthcare for all. Personally, I think the idea that we can’t have a public option because the for-profit companies couldn’t compete is an excellent reason to have a public option, but that’s me. As long as healthcare is universally available and affordable, I can live with the system we have. It is, of course, not universally affordable, but that’s a fight for another day.

Education, likewise, should be a higher priority. And, yes, I think we should teach facts and only facts, and let the students make up their own minds about whatever they are taught in Sunday School. We are falling farther and farther behind in math, science, and even the arts, and that is because we are the only industrial nation that allows schools funded with public money to teach that the Loch Ness Monster is real, and that is proof of a young Earth. We aren’t doing our kids any favors by allowing them to be confused about how the world works in the name of their parents’ religion. Religion can be a great thing, but it has no place in public education where we are trying to build a sense of community and civic purpose. We can’t do that if we spend time focusing teacher attention on decisive and ludicrous topics.

In short, we have a long way to go. We’ve made progress, recently, in the area of healthcare, but only such that no one will take up the fight again for at least a generation, and we’ll be stuck with these half-measures in the mean time. We are slipping ever backward on education, and there is no way forward without stepping on toes. We need to decide what our priorities are, and whether we want to live up to the best of the Founding Father’s vision, or down to the worst of it. They didn’t treat women as whole people, and it wasn’t changed until 1920. They compromised on slavery, pushing the problem off on the future, which lead directly to the Civil War and cost 25 times more American lives than did the Revolution. As I have said before, our America is better than theirs.

Do we not want to keep it that way?