Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Healthcare vs. Corporate Care

I posted the following essay in November or 2015. I think it is still a relevant picture of our healthcare situation in the U.S., and I think we can still say "With profiteering companies balking at providing health coverage, it is the perfect opportunity to look for other models of healthcare delivery."

Photo by Glow Images
(Getty Images)
United-Health Group, Inc. is demonstrating what is wrong with healthcare in America – and it is not the Affordable Healthcare Act. The problem is our expectation of profit rather than access to healthcare as the measure of success.  The front-page news in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal (11/20/2015) read that UnitedHealth, the largest insurance provider in the country, is losing money on Obamacare and may pull out of the ACA exchanges altogether. The truth is that they are not losing money – it is just that they are not making as much money as they would like. A look at the New York Stock Exchange reveals that UnitedHealth has made profits for the first three quarters of 2015, and has done better than it did in 2014. The fact that the company would threaten to back out of its participation in the Affordable Care Act due to less than expected profits demonstrates that quarterly gains are more important than covering people’s healthcare needs.

Healthcare in America took a wrong turn when someone figured out that it could be a moneymaking industry. For-profit hospitals began to set the standard, then insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies quickly accelerated their profit making as well. One problem with the for-profit model is that not only is a profit expected, but the profit also has to be greater than last quarter’s profits in order to make shareholders happy.

There is a difference between making money and making a profit, as Peter Ubel pointed out in an article in Forbes Magazine last year (“Is the Profit Motive Ruining American Healthcare?”). Hospitals, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies have to generate enough income to pay salaries, cover expenditures, and have some operating capital. It is certainly important that hospitals and clinics remain solvent so healthcare workers can be paid for the work they do. It is also important that people have access to the healthcare we provide. As Peter Ubel put it, “No one should go bankrupt either paying for medical care or providing it. But that doesn’t mean health care businesses, whether profit or non-profit, should enrich themselves at the expense of society.”

If it is getting to the point that insurance companies cannot deliver policies that will cover the healthcare needs of the people because they think it is too risky for the company, then perhaps it is time to look for a different model. If UnitedHealth is representative of health insurance companies’ attitudes toward healthcare, then it is demonstrating the need for Medicare for all, or some other version of a single-payer healthcare system. Every other developed country has figured out how to provide healthcare for their citizens.

Political Opposition

From the day that the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, there has been continued opposition to it from Republicans.  Many of the arguments have to do with costs. Companies claim that added insurance costs hurts their ability to maintain a profitable business. Now the Republicans are jumping on the news that UnitedHealth cannot profit from ACA exchanges. They will look for any reason to make Obamacare not work.

The sad thing is that it is people in need of healthcare who will suffer in the ongoing political debate of how to make healthcare work and who will pay. One measure of a nation is how it cares for its citizens, particularly the sick, the elderly, and the needy. While other countries find ways to make healthcare work, the U.S. is mired down in politics and profits.

Putting People ahead of Profit

Steven Hill, a contributing writer to the book, Dream of a Nation has an article, “Tackling the Profit Problem in Healthcare: What the US Can Learn from Europe?” Hill poses the question,  “How do the French, Germans, British and other European countries manage to provide better healthcare than most Americans receive for about half the per capita cost?” One big reason, he says is one of philosophy, namely that “The various European healthcare systems put people and their health before profits.” He goes on to point out that not every European country has a single-payer, government-run healthcare system. “France and Germany have figured out a third way,” he says, that “appears to perform better than single-payer, but it also might be a better match for the American culture.” That “third way” is a hybrid that allows for private insurance companies as well as individual choice of doctors who are in private practice. In France and Germany, this hybrid is apparently working, but our own hybrid attempt with the ACA is being threatened now by corporate greed. We are missing that ingredient of putting people and their health ahead of profit.

Businesses seem reluctant to provide healthcare as a benefit, and insurance companies seem reluctant to accept a reasonable profit in providing healthcare policies. Therefore, it is time for the U.S. to make an investment in its citizens and find a way to deliver healthcare for all. If we had a single payer universal healthcare system, for example, it could be a boon for the economy and a shot in the arm for every entrepreneur.  I personally know of people who would like to launch their own business, but do not want to risk losing healthcare benefits they have in their present job. Indeed, there are many who are working at a job they don’t particularly like just to have insurance coverage.  So not only would big business benefit from not being saddled with healthcare costs, small entrepreneurs would have more freedom to do what the Republicans say this country is all about – start new businesses.

Why must we lag behind other developed countries when it comes to providing for healthcare needs of the people? There are some great ideas out there that put people ahead of profits and look to the common good. With profiteering companies balking at providing health coverage, it is the perfect opportunity to look for other models of healthcare delivery.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Music: White As Snow (U2)

A song for Memorial Day by U2, "White As Snow"

"White As Snow: U2's most intimate song" from The Guardian:

"Bono's hymn to a soldier dying in Afghanistan is unadorned, evocative and suggestive. And you don't even have to know what it's about to feel its quiet power or sense its sadness."

White As Snow 

by Adam Clayton, Dave Evans, Paul David Hewson, Larry Mullen, Daniel Roland Lanois and Brian Eno

Where I came from there were no hills at all
The land was flat, the highway straight and wide
My brother and I would drive for hours
Like we had years instead of days
Our faces as pale as the dirty snow

Once I knew there was a love divine
Then came a time I thought it knew me not
Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not
Only the lamb as white as snow

And the water, it was icy
As it washed over me
And the moon shone above me

Now this dry ground it bears no fruit at all
Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon
The road refuses strangers
The land the seeds we sow
Where might we find the lamb as white as snow

As boys we would go hunting in the woods
To sleep the night shooting out the stars
Now the wolves are every passing stranger
Every face we cannot know
If only a heart could be as white as snow
If only a heart could be as white as snow


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day Remembrance

In his op-ed piece, "Forgetting Why We Remember" by David Blight talks about "the surprising origins and true meaning of Memorial Day," and explains how black Charlestonians "created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution."

Forgetting Why We Remember can be read at


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Haiku: On the Mountain

on the mountain top
a world of activity
takes on a stillness


Image: Arkansas Landscape (1938) at The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Artist: Everett Spruce (1908-2002)
Medium: Oil on Hardboard


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Girl from the North Country

Today Bob Dylan turns 76. To mark this day, enjoy this rare look into his early career with "Girl from the North Country" (filmed in Canada).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Blowin' in the Wind (Bob & Joan)

Looking toward Bob Dylan's 76th birthday tomorrow, here is a clip from 1976 when he was a mere 35 years old and already a legend. It's an amazing duet with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at Colorado State University during his Rolling Thunder Revue.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Music: Make You Feel My Love

In honor of Bob Dylan's Birthday on Wednesday, May 24, here's a touching Bob Dylan cover by singer Peter Head with video that features another of my favorite artists: Charlie Chaplin.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday Haiku: Sunset Calm

My high school algebra teacher used to say, "Show me your work." So today I decided to show you my work as I tried to come up with this week's haiku:

Li River resting
in Guilin’s ancient valley
with a sunset calm

with a sunset calm
the river valley resting
from the summer heat

sunset calm
river valley rests
summer settles

summer settles
as the river rests
in sunset calm


Photo: Elephant Trunk Hill, Guilin, China


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival

Bob Dylan's early days at the Newport Folk Festival. One fascinating thing thing about this video is that you can catch a glimpse of the legendary Doc Watson sitting behind Bob (around .53 and again around 2.0 min).


Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday Music: Here Comes the Sun

Here Comes the Sun
A beautiful tribute to George Harrison by Paul Simon, David Crosby and Graham Nash.

"Here Comes The Sun"
by George Harrison

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
It's all right, it's all right


Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Mother's Day Memory

A re-post from Mother's day, 2016:

Revisiting Our Town (a Mother's Day Memory)

Fredonia State University of New York photo

It may have been the first play I ever saw and it is certainly my earliest recollection of live theater. I must have been around 7 years old. While I did not follow the story line at such a young age, it was all such a fascinating experience. I knew many of the actors who were in the senior class at Dadeville High School and I knew the director, Mary Kinnaird. She was the high school English teacher and she also happened to be my mother. The play was Our Town, by Thornton Wilder.

It must have been quite a big night for the town as well. I recall my mother saying years later that as they were working out the logistics she mentioned to the high school principal the matter of paying royalties out of the proceeds from the play. “Royalties?” he said with astonishment, “I never heard of doing a senior play that required paying royalties!” That became the routine, however, as my mother continued to produce the high school senior plays over the years. She guided future students in a variety of plays that included I remember Mama, Cheaper by the Dozen, You Can't Take It with You, and Pygmalion.

The Play is the Thing

Our Town was first performed in 1938 and found immediate success on Broadway, earning a Pulitzer Prize for Thornton Wilder. The play has had continued success down through the years as a classic American play. From that high school performance that I witnessed years ago, I was left with vivid memories.

Even though I saw the play at a very young age, I can still recall some of the scenes. I remember the stage manager who kept the audience informed about the action on stage, the paperboy delivering the morning news; I remember the actors using step ladders to simulate looking out upstairs windows in neighboring houses; and I remember the lovely Emily who was played by high school senior, Carol Jane Meigs. I can still see her in that white dress bidding a tearful good-bye to Grover’s Corners as she played the part of Emily.
Perhaps the reason I have had Our Town on my mind is that Mother’s Day is approaching as well as my mother’s birthday. She would have been 95 years old on May 10 if she were still living.  I decided that I would honor my mother's memory by viewing the play that she directed so many years ago.

Since it is one of the most frequently performed plays in the country, I was hoping to find a recording of it.  Upon visiting the public library, I was excited to find a DVD recording of a 1996 production that had aired on Showtime and on PBS. It was directed by Joanne Woodward, and starred her husband, Paul Newman, as the stage manager. I happily checked out the DVD and viewed it a few days later when I had a quiet span of time to give to the viewing.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, the play presents ordinary scenes from the lives of people in a small ordinary town, Grover’s Corners, in New Hampshire. In the words of the stage manager, “This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and our dying.” As I watched the play unfold on the screen, I had another play going on inside my head. I was re-envisioning that spring night in 1962 when the Dadeville High School production took place. I loved the way the audience was drawn into the play at the bidding of the stage manager; I was intrigued by the minimalist stage setting which allowed closer attention to the conversation; and I was amazed that this very production had taken place in the small town of Dadeville, Alabama.

The Gift of Live Theater

With a population of around 3,000 people, my hometown of Dadeville was comparable to Grover’s Corners, which the play tells us had a population of 2,642. The people I knew growing up lived according to the customs of the day, not unlike the people depicted in Thornton Wilder’s play. As I watched the drama of Our Town play out, I realized that my mother’s production of the play was great gift. It was a gift to the graduating seniors to be involved in such a production and it was a larger gift to the community to give the people a chance to look thoughtfully at their lives for just a moment.

The stage manager put it this way: “Now there are some things we all know, but we don't take'm out and look at'm very often. We all know that something is eternal...everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being.”

In Act III, Emily, who had died in childbirth observed, “It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.” She made that observation after having been given the chance to revisit the world for one day. She had chosen what she remembered as a happy day, her 12th birthday.

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?” she asked while looking on her family’s interactions on the day she chose to return to life.

“No,” replied the stage manager, “saints and poets, maybe — they do some.”

“In Our Living and Our Dying”

I cannot say how the townsfolk reacted after that production of Our Town. I’m sure they all thought it was a nice play, and I’m sure parents were proud of the production that their high school children had accomplished. I have to think that some, at least, took time to reflect upon the life that they were living. I know that the actual lives of the actors played out in ways that were similar to the characters on stage. Some died too young; most went on to ordinary lives of marriages and mortgages. There were also disruptions that lay just ahead: the assassination of a president, the war in Vietnam, the civil rights struggle, Woodstock – all of these cultural markers of my generation were yet to be encountered by that small tight-knit community.

All of these years later, I am all the more impressed and thankful for the role my mother played in bringing good things to a small mill town in the South. One of the characters in Our Town said, “There isn't much culture...Robinson Crusoe and the Bible; Handel's 'Largo,' we all know that: and Whistler's 'Mother' -- those are just about as far as we go.” We didn’t have a lot of culture in our little town either, but there was one high school English teacher who brought gifts from Thornton Wilder, George Bernard Shaw, and other playwrights to enrich the lives of students and others in the community. 

In her annual production of those senior high school plays, my mother gave the town a few moments to listen to “the saints and the poets.” She enabled us all to ever so briefly recall the truth that “There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being.”


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saturday Haiku: River Sunset

sometimes a river
encompasses all the world
as the sun goes down



Photo,"Sunset in Alabama"
From "America's Amazon" at Camellia's Cottage blog


Friday, May 12, 2017

Why Employers Should Not Be Saddled with Providing Healthcare Benefits

There is a growing reluctance on the part of the private sector to provide healthcare for the public. Aetna announced this week that it is withdrawing its policy coverage in the healthcare exchange for the Affordable Healthcare Act (often referred to as Obamacare). It cites loss of revenue as the reason. This comes after the Republican bill which passed the House of Representatives last week which would eliminate coverage for millions and would go back to not covering pre-existing conditions in addition to placing a cap on coverage for cancer and many chronic illnesses. 

All of this brings to light the economic burden that healthcare-for-profit places on employers as well as private citizens. Families can easily be pushed into bankruptcy and poverty by a single illness, and businesses face a competitive disadvantage on the global market when they have to factor in the cost of employee healthcare.

I posted the following essay in December of 2013 and I offer it again today because it is becoming ever more clear that the private sector is lacking in both motivation and in resources to provide the level of healthcare that all other industrialized modern countries currently provide for their citizens.

*   *   *

It is often difficult to have a rational conversation these days about healthcare. People often speak in near-doctrinal terms when expressing their views on healthcare delivery. To question their views may bring on a plethora of accusations about one’s loyalty, faith, or patriotism. Here are seven brief reasons why I think that the provision of healthcare should not be left to the realm of employee benefits provided in the work place.  

  • Employers, especially large companies recently, have shown a reluctance to grant employee benefits by shifting to the use part time employees. Moreover, some companies now claim that they cannot do more job creation as long as healthcare coverage is required.
  • Small companies (with fewer than 50 employees) are not required to offer health coverage at all.
  • When healthcare is linked to employment, the unemployed have very limited  healthcare  options. I know a case in which a man became ill and was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, he had decent health insurance. Unfortunately, when he became too sick to work he was terminated from his job. With his termination from his employment, he lost healthcare coverage while he was in the midst of fighting his illness.
  • In the global economy, U.S. companies are competing with companies in other countries where employee healthcare is not part of the employer's operating budget, making it more difficult for the U.S. to stay competitive. This makes it more likely that U.S. jobs will continue to dwindle, increasing unemployment rolls. (See The Wall Street Journal's break down of employer's benefit costs here)
  • Employees’ income is often at the whim of employers and at risk in times of recession and corporate cost-cutting measures. At the very least, their healthcare should not be at the whim of employment circumstances.
  • A healthy workforce is good for business, therefore good for the economy. It stands to reason that access to healthcare should be available to all potential workers as well as all current workers.  
  • Part of the government’s role is to foster an environment conducive to enterprise. Roadways, bridges, water supply, postal service, and education are a few examples of what the government does to foster a productive community.  Providing access to healthcare is another important factor in insuring an adequate workforce and fostering a healthy environment for business and industry.

A Society that Works

There are three things that make for a society that works for all of the people: access to education, access to transportation, and access to healthcare. When a society can insure that its populace has access to education, transportation, and healthcare, there will be a higher level of productive participation on the part of its citizens.  Industry and society can only benefit if there are better educated workers whose health needs are addressed and who have adequate transportation. Just as the private sector alone cannot be expected to build a society’s infrastructure, the private sector cannot be expected to adequately provide for the population’s healthcare needs.  When we can learn to take the burden of healthcare off individuals and employers, as in a single-payer healthcare format where all are covered, then we can make better progress as a society.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wedowee Memories

Downtown Wedowee, photo by Rivers Langley, courtesy of Wikipedia

I will always hold Wedowee, Alabama* as one of the best spots in the world. My family moved there when I was one year old when my father became pastor of the First Baptist Church. I would spend the next five years of my young life in that place. In my memory, it was like Andy Griffith's fictional town of Mayberry, and an idyllic time in my childhood. A small county seat town, it contained everything a boy growing up would need. My older brother recalls the days when we lived there saying, "I would go out to play with my friends on a Saturday or on a summer day, and Mom would say, 'Be home by suppertime,' and that was the only requisite given. It was a great place to be a kid." I am still surprised looking back that I was able to convince my mother to let me walk to kindergarten, which meant walking from our neighborhood street to the town square, crossing two streets at the traffic lights, and heading down to Mrs. Perry's house where she taught our kindergarten class. But then again, it was a small town where everyone watched out for everyone else's children.

What follows is one of my early memories of life in Wedowee. I am not changing any names to protect the innocent or the guilty. In fact, part of my motivation is something like sending a message in a bottle. If my first friends, Phillip Haynes and Mary Lois Dothard happen to see this post, I hope they might get in touch since I lost contact when our respective families moved on to different locales. So Mary Lois or Phillip, if you see this, look over to the right-hand column, hit "view my complete profile" under my name, and you will see how to send me an email.

Old Mr. Lee and His Young Farm Hands

I spent some formative years in Wedowee, Alabama. My family moved there when I was one year old and we lived there until I was six.  Wedowee was where I learned to walk and talk. My first best friend, Phillip Haynes, lived just up the street at the top of the hill. My other best friend, Mary Lois Dothard, lived two doors up from our house and across the road from Phillip. The three of us often played together and sometimes got into mischief together.

Old Mr. Lee lived with his wife in the house in between my house and Mary Lois’s. His house sat on top of the hill just past our driveway. He was quite a character, and there were lots of stories that people would tell about him. He used to sit on his front porch chewing tobacco, but you didn’t see him spit like most folks do when they chew tobacco. Someone asked him once why he didn’t spit his tobacco. All he said was ,”Keeps the ‘skeeters away.”

I knew Mr. Lee as a farmer. He must have been retired from something. He certainly seemed too old to be working anywhere. He always walked with a cane whenever he went out, and his ready, playful smile revealed that he didn’t particularly enjoy wearing his dentures (if he had any), but he kept a hand in farming right there in the Wedowee city limits. He had some pigs in his backyard and we would often go over to watch him “slop the hogs.” I can still see those animals eagerly eating from the trough as Old Mr. Lee poured the hog slop down shoot that led to the trough.

He had grape vines, Mr. Lee did, that grew along the fence between his house and ours. He would tell my Dad, “Any grapes that you see growin’ on yo’ side-a the fence, I want you to hep ye’self to ‘em. I got more‘n I can han’le. Everthing on that side of the fence is yores.”

He wasn’t always that generous, though. Another story that went around was about the time a neighbor asked him if he could borrow his rope. "Nope," he said, "I gotta tie up my milk."

"You don't tie up milk with rope," the fellow protested. 

"One excuse is as good as another when you don't wanna lend yer rope," Mr. Lee replied.

Mr. Lee also had a mule and a plow. He kept a fair-sized garden plot behind his house, and he and that old mule would turn the sod for his garden every spring. Word had it that Mr. Lee once bought himself a tractor so he could do some modern farming. He was quite disconcerted, however, when he went out to plow his field and that fool tractor took off. It must have bolted on out, and Mr. Lee was shouting, “Whoa! Whoa!” pulling on the wheel. The tractor didn’t whoa and Mr. Lee ended up taking out his back fence.

The old man wasted no time. He sold his new-fangled tractor and went back to his mule and plow. He said, “I want sump’m ‘at’ll whoa when I holler ‘whoa,’ and this here mule knows how to whoa!”

One spring, Mr. Lee decided to plow a little plot in the front of his house up near the road. It was not a large endeavor, just a small section to grow a few more things. On this one particular bright spring day, Phillip, Mary Lois, and I were all playing at Mary Lois’s house. Her mother called us together and told us as we gathered on her big front porch that Mr. Lee had said that if we wanted to, we kids could go over to his garden and pull some weeds and use them for pretend vegetables to play house.

“Yay! Let’s do it!” Mary Lois was most enthusiastic. I had learned at an early age that girls are always eager to play house. We boys were more into exploring the yard looking for bugs, playing cowboys and Indians, climbing trees, or maybe swinging on the swing set. But on this day, Phillip and I were off to play house with our friend, Mary Lois, in Mr. Lee’s yard.

“First we have to find where these weeds are,” Mary Lois said. She was a natural leader so we naturally followed her lead, and off we went.

‘Here they are!” she exclaimed as we came upon Mr. Lee’s small garden plot. “I’ll start here, and you and Phillip go over and start over there,” she pointed us over to the other side of the garden.

Mary Lois set our immediately, plucking the small grass-like plants.

“Why are these weeds growing in rows?” I asked.

“That’s just the way these weeds grow,” she explained. Who could argue with such a confident view?

Phillip and I each took our row of weeds and began pulling and gathering. It wasn’t long until we had pulled every weed we could find. Mary Lois then gathered them all into a bundle. She handed them to me while she set out to mark off the kitchen area under the tree in our imaginary play house.

I took the bundle of weeds – which was just large enough for me to hold in both hands with my thumbs and forefingers containing them in a nice circle. As I held it, I did what I suppose any four-year-old boy would do: I held it up to my nose and smelled the roots.

“This smells just like corn,” I said.

Phillip reached over to take the bundle. “Let me see,” he said as he gave it a big sniff. “You’re right! It does smell like corn.”

“Never mind,” Mary Lois said. “This is where we’re going to have our kitchen. And right here will be the stove.”

We then went through the motions of cooking and stirring and dishing out food onto imaginary plates. We sat in a circle and said things like, “Yum, yum! This is so good!” “Are these beans or carrots?” “I think they are beans.” “We can pretend its corn.” “Next time, if it rains we’ll make mud pies.”

I suppose we kept playing house for about as long as our attention spans could take it. I don’t remember the rest of the day, but we probably headed back over to Mary Lois’s house to play with toy cars on her front porch or to watch Popeye cartoons on T.V.

I do remember, however, the next time the three of us got together to play. Mary Lois’s mother gathered us together just like before, only this time she told us, “Mr. Lee does not want you playing in his yard anymore. He told me that some kids ran through his garden and kicked up all of his corn that he had just planted.”

I can still remember the look of Phillip’s face as we both, right on cue, turned and looked at each other, remembering the aroma we had smelled on the roots of those weeds.

After those words of admonition, we three were off looking for something to do.

“I wondered why they were growing in rows,” I said as we headed around to Mary Lois’s back yard where her swing set was.

*    *    *

Looking back, I can see how this story has played out many times in my life. Amazing how our childhood years become prologue to patterns that will follow in our adult life.

[My poem, “An Early Time,” shares another memory from this period. You can read it here]

* "Wedowee is a town in Randolph County, Alabama, United States. At the 2010 census the population was 823, up from 818 in 2000. The city is the county seat of Randolph County. It was initially incorporated in 1836, but its charter lapsed by the late 19th century. It was reincorporated in 1901...Wedowee, which means "old water" in the Creek language, was named after a Muscogee Creek Indian chief. This area was historically occupied by the Muscogee Creek people." (From Wikipedia)

WWI monument in the town square
"Honoring the Heroes of Randolph County"


Monday, May 8, 2017

Monday Music: Raga Flamenco (Anoushka Shankar)

A few weeks back, I featured a young Ravi Shankar playing an Indian Raga on his sitar. Here is one of his talented daughters, Anoushka Shankar, a true virtuoso on the sitar, with Raga Flamenco. Nora Jones, by the way is the late Ravi Shankar's other talented daughter.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bearing Witness to the Times: Down at the Plant

The historic Buffalo Cotton Textile Mill in Union County, South Carolina
(Public Domain photo, courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons)

(Headline from Sauk Valley Media)

Down at the Plant

When did you last hear
The morning whistle
Down at the local plant?

Many good Americans
Would give little thought
To who resides in the White House
As long as they could
Wake up in the morning
And put in a shift
Down at the local plant.

This is the sad irony
Of our national struggle today.

The one thing
That has given our country
Its greatest security –
Steady local employment –
Is no longer there.

Agriculture may have given birth
To Middle America,
But manufacturing
Gave it legs to stand on.

Sometimes seen
As mindless repetition
Or a cultural wasteland,
The local plant
Kept small town America humming.

“Will it play in Peoria?”
“Is it good for Main Street?”
These were the questions
That kept our ship of state
On an even keel.

The bustle of New York
And the glitter of L.A.
Were possible only
Because across the heartland
There was a whistle blowing
Down at the local plant.

Not everyone could own farmland,
Or get a college education,
Or find fulfillment
In the bright lights of the city,
But almost anyone
Could get on
Down at the local plant.
It became a fail-safe
For the country.

One by one
They began to leave.
Company bosses
Shipped manufacturing overseas
Leaving the heartland
As desolate as any inner city.

Meanwhile, the college crowd
Made its fortune
And toasted its success
While leaving Main Street
In the shadows.

Meth came to the heartland
Like heroin to the inner city
In vain attempts
To fill a desolate, jobless void.

And so the culture wars rage –
Some wanting to move forward,
Others wanting to go back.
Everyone feeling
The unspoken need
To hear that morning whistle
Down at the local plant.

                                                   ~ CK


Author's Note: I hope that readers do not see this poem simply as a nostalgic look at the past.  If you saw the movie, Norma Rae, or if you read my post about southern mill towns, you know that the cotton mills were no panacea, especially in the non-unionized regions of the country. Those days are gone and there is no going back. The fact remains, however, that though the mills are gone, nothing has taken their place. We have yet to figure out how to bring meaningful work to Middle America and rural America. Until we fill that need, we will likely continue to have trouble in the heartland.  CK  


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Saturday Haiku: Water Lilies

spring air is heavy
as the water lilies bloom
beneath the footbridge


Image: Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge at the Princeton Art Museum
Artist: Claude Monet
Medium: Oil on canvas
Date: 1897-1899


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Journalistic Poetry: An American Chronicle

Bearing Witness to the Times: Journalistic Poems from the First 100 Days of a New Presidency

American Landscape (Public Domain, courtesy of Pixabay)

Some of my writer friends and I have been talking – especially the poets among us. What can we do during these uncertain times? We see before us (and among us) division and discord magnified by the nature of our political system.

The best thing that poets can do is to bear witness to the times – articulate what is happening in the moment; speak to the real life experiences of your people.  Earlier this year I am set myself a goal to write a poem each week to reflect what I see and experience in the life of our nation. My thinking was that if I could write one poem a week there would be some chronicle of our sacred/tested/doubtful union.

Since I began this project, I have found encouragement in the words of novelist Arundhati Roy:

Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.*  

I hope my efforts will not be polemical, but will rather be a true expression of what is. My goal will be to speak to our experiences of what we see and feel in our community and national life. Hopefully that poetic chronicle will depict the joys, sorrows, celebrations and uncertainties that come forth in our common struggle for a more perfect union.

I have referred to this as an “American Poetry Project” because it is my own private attempt to take a look at the state of our nation and to render some public sense of the times in poetic form. I wrote the first poem, “When Hope Is Set in Stone” on Inauguration Day and have written a poem each week since then to try to grasp the mood in our country.

President Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, referred to the 87 years since the country’s founding and the war which was “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

We are now 240 years beyond our nation’s formative Declaration of Independence, and some see these times as testing the very fabric of democracy.  These are the poetic “witnesses” that I have composed to date. I am leaving this project open-ended, so you will see more entries in the future, but I wanted to let the first 100 days of a new administration in the White House serve as a marker to bring these 16 poems together. (You may click on any title to read the poem).

Dealer of the White House (to the Tune of “Master of the House”)


          Addendum: Poems written after the first 100 days
                     Down at the Plant

                     Aleppo After the Fall

                     Fault Lines

* From War Talk, a collection of essays that speak to the rise of militarism and the increasing religious and racial violence seen in the world today.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Monday Music Double Header: The Boxer and Graceland (Alison Krauss) :

Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, stated recently in a Facebook post, "Take nothing only literally. Everything fades into image and poetics and speaks to the soul. Everything is layered and resonant." Think of that as you listen to Alison Krauss's beautiful renditions of Paul Simon's memorable hits, "The Boxer" and especially "Graceland." The performance is from Paul Simon & Friends, Gershwin Prize For Popular Song.

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