Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday Music: A Soalin' (Peter, Paul & Mary)

The custom of soaling dates back to pre-Christian Celtic practices when soul cakes were baked and given to "soulers" who went from house to house singing and praying for the departed. It was done at the Celtic new year which coincided with the later Christian calendar of Halloween and All Souls day. Thus the practice influenced both "Trick or Treating" at Halloween, and caroling at Christmas (see more at wikipedia).


Peter, Paul & Mary took a traditional soul cake folk song, added strains of "Heigh Ho Nobody, Home," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and created a popular Christmas song, "A Soalin'," which they recorded in 1963. Though some curmudgeons see this as a corruption of an old song and an older tradition, PP&M managed to put the public in touch with some folk history that many would have otherwise been unaware of. Not to mention the fact that their lively instrumentation and vocals showcase their remarkable talent.

Here is a live version from a 1965 concert in France.




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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Ancestors







ancestors resting
under weightiness of stone
yet light as a breeze















___________________________

Photo by Charles Kinnaird: Oak Hill Cemetery, Birmingham, Alabama



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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Healthcare vs. Corporate Care

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.



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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Donald Trump: "Southern Strategy" on Steroids

Donald Trump's Demagoguery Evokes Memories of Asa Carter


Trump Rally in Birmingham
Photo by Joe Songer (AL.com)
This week we have seen some frightful things in Donald Trump's political rallies that amount to sheer rabble-rousing and using fear to incite crowds. In my own city of Birmingham, Donald Trump held a rally in which some white Trump supporters actually beat up on a black protester with Black Lives Matter. Trump's response was, "Maybe he should have been roughed up." At that same rally, Trump called for surveillance of mosques speaking to, as CNN reported, "a raucous and approving crowd." That crowd loved Trump's promise to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out, chanting "Build that wall!" In other rallies, Trump has made the preposterous claim that he saw film footage of "thousands of New Jersey Muslims" cheering and celebrating when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. The only purpose for such a statement would be to incite the crowds and gain support by playing upon people's fear and prejudice. 

Memories of Our Racist Past

My friend, Chervis Isom wrote a memoir, The Newspaper Boy, in which he recounted growing up in the racist climate of 1950s Birmingham, Alabama. One of the things he tells about is the White Citizens Council rallies led by Asa Carter, who really knew how to tap into people's prejudices. His public rallies served to whip up the crowds by using racism and fear to incite action. [You can read my review of his book here] Asa Carter went on to be a speechwriter for George Wallace who exhibited demagoguery par excellence.  I have often witnessed what I see as the same base tactics of fear-mongering and hate in the social media as well as in political rhetoric, but when I read about the shameful acts at the Trump rally in my own town, the similarities seemed just too great.

I decided to ask Chervis Isom himself what he thought about what we are seeing today compared to what he witnessed during our state's civil rights struggle. He told me that it does indeed remind him of the White Citizen Council meetings that he attended when he was a teen. Chervis went on to elaborate:   

 Asa "Ace" Carter would speak so knowingly about the worlds and the International Communist Party and its intention to bring us down, our government was full of Communists, the unions were led by Communists, McCarthy was right about all his theories that there's a communist or fellow traveler behind every bush. And it was that kind of motivation that caused all the civil unrest by blacks. Nothing but a Communist plot to cause a race war in America. The WCC was against the Jews, the immigrants, and of course the blacks. It was the place where crazies gathered along with normal law abiding people who were being brainwashed to distrust anyone not like us. Thankfully, I met some good, law abiding people, customers on my newspaper route, who were from up north, who showed me a better place. I wrote about my emergence from racism in my memoir, The Newspaper Boy. 

Unfortunately, I see too many parallels today to those days a half century ago. You would have thought we would have learned something but I suppose we should never be surprised about the abyss of ignorance out there. Today, we see the same xenophobia that was rampant sixty years ago. We are hearing demagogues like Ace Carter on every front. Trump is one of them, among the worst. It is not Communism today that is the enemy but an amorphous danger called "Islamic Jihad" or words to that effect. Frankly, I think Communism was the greater fear by far. Does anyone remember the concept of "Mutual Assured Destruction", an assurance that no matter who sent the rockets with the "Bombs" first, the reaction would be devastating, and all civilization would be wiped out? Now those were the days when we worried about existential problems. Yes, I see the parallels, and if we play our cars well, Russia will be our ally in this more recent problem. I would say to people to lighten up. Xenophobia and fear are not the answer. It was not the answer then nor is it now.

[See more information about Mr. Isom's book at his website:  www.thenewspaperboy.net]

A Call for Fairness, Equality, and Reason

I appreciate Chervis Isom's perspective. Today we need to especially take some time to assess the social and political climate. It is one thing to regret the hateful actions, racism, and misogyny of our past. It is another thing altogether to fail to see that same dynamic coming around again. We need to advocate for a better way. Fairness, equality, and reason should be the watchwords of the day. Anytime we let fear guide our actions, we will come to regret those actions.

Our politicians would serve us better by demonstrating some decency and statesmanship in public life rather than the hateful and fearful rabble-rousing we are seeing in the likes of Donald Trump and his ilk. Hate, racism and fear of other ethnic groups did not bring us peace and security in the past, and will serve us no better today. 



Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Music: Living in the Promised Land

"Give us your tired and weak
And we will make them strong
Bring us your foreign songs
And we will sing along...

"And room for everyone
Living in the Promised land"

Last week, Willie Nelson became the first country music artist to receive The Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. He performed a song that was first released in 1986, "Living in the Promised Land," telling the crowd, “I think this is one of the most appropriate songs that we could do for this period in America. ... I felt like this might be a good time to kind of try to bring it back.”






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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Haiku: One Moment



the path lies ahead
but beauty surrounds me now
where is my delight?




____________________________

Photo by Mavroudakis Fotis (Getty Images)



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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On the Feast Day of St. Hilda of Whitby

Image of St. Hilda
from Caedmon's Cross
For Hilda of Whitby

In a simpler time
Of kingdoms and and fiefdoms
When liege lords and princes
Set their boundaries across the land,
Killing one another for the right to rule,
A lady arose
Who called for a higher vision.

She established at Whitby
A spiritual path,
A community of grace
For both men and women
Who sought love and life
Rather than power and death.
Learning was foremost
In a setting where
The arts
The sciences
And sacred texts
Were all studied
And held in high esteem.

Hilda became advisor to kings,
Counselor to bishops,
Encourager of poets,
Mediator in religious controversy.
King Edwin
Bishop Wilfrid
Caedmon
The Synod of Whitby
All give her thanks.

Honored as a saint
By Rome and Canterbury alike,
Followers of Celtic spirituality
Pay their respect
To the Abbess of Whitby.

The hildoceras ammonite*,
Named for the saint from Yorkshire
Connects her name
To eons past.
Thus her grace-of-being
Extends to both past and present
As Hilda of Whitby
Is remembered on this day.





The ruins of the present abbey reputably near the site where Hilda had her first monastery Streonashalh on the headland at Whitby. The present ruins are from an abbey built by the Norman knight Reinfrid in 1070s which was rebuilt in 1220s. (From the Parish Church of St. Wilfrid website)



Hildoceras Bifrons ammonite
Early Jurassic Period

*From Wikipedia: The genus name has been given the name Hildoceras in honour of St. Hilda of Whitby (614-680 AD). Legend has it that this lady was required to found an abbey on the cliffs above Whitby, in the north of England. Finding the site to be infested by snakes (a devilish omen), she prayed to the Lord and the snakes coiled up and were turned to stone. She picked them up and threw them over the cliff, and that is why there are so many ammonite fossils in the rocks below the abbey. The specific name bifrons comes from Bifron, a demon, another name for the Roman god, Janus






For Further Reading: 


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Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday Music: "I Will Wait"

The selection for today's Monday Music feature has been queued up for a couple of weeks -- before the tragic events in Paris last Friday. Here we have some recent music history from France: Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France, "one of the most original bands in the history of recorded jazz."  This is the only video footage of Django with original sound intact that has been discovered.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Autumn Stream








an astounding sight
the random geometry
 of an autumn stream

















________________________________

Photo by Charles Kinnaird



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Friday, November 13, 2015

The World's Most Enlightening Region






What role does conscience play in human choices? 
Is religion or spirituality relevant in our times?
Is religion compatible with science? Is it useful for psychological health?




Dr. N. S. Xavier explores these questions as he takes us on an amazing journey to a remarkable region in India. The Kerala region in India is the great exception to the violence and cultural clashes that have occurred in India and throughout the world. In this ancient region, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived together peacefully, even sharing in some of their celebrations.


Dr. Xavier, who is from India, gives us a fascinating look at the history of the region, explores the dynamics of the different faiths that are established in Kerala, and examines healthy religion vs. unhealthy religion. He gives some ideas about healthy religion by enumerating the things that conscience promotes:
  • Faith without fanaticism
  • Discipline without rigidity
  • Pleasure without addiction
  • Power without abusive force
  • Self-esteem without false pride
  • Individuality without self-centeredness
  • Loving relationships without selfishness or hate
  • Loyalty to one's group without unfairness to other groups
  • Integration of the past without impediment to the present
  • Future direction without loss of balance
  • Good judgment without prejudice
  • Deep morality without superficial moralism


The film debuted at the Parliament of the World's Religions last month in Salt Lake City, and can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube and can be viewed below (about an hour long). Dr. Xavier's website and contact information is at http://www.nsxavier.com.  





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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lines of Grief






Lines of Grief 

My word processor does not understand poetry –
It just processes –
Green lines and red lines
Striving to auto correct
By predetermined rules;
Calling for clean black letters
On a pure white background.

Some people are like that.
Confronted with devastating news
They say,
“Give me some time to process that.”

Processing is not needed.
Only tears are needed –
And sometimes wailing,
Sometimes shouting.

Processing is dry as a bone.
Tears are wet with life.
Their lines of grief
The only authentic response.

                                                  ~ CK





________________________________________


Photo by Giulio Giacconi (Getty Images)



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Monday, November 9, 2015

Monday Music: Manamanah

Some days, I want something magnificent to start my day, like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," or something majestic and immense like "Also Sprach Zarathustra," by Strauss. On other days, The Muppets doing Manamanah is just the ticket!


And here is a bit of history behind the song, for some of you who may remember it from other venues. From Wikipedia:

"Mah Nà Mah Nà" is a popular song written by Piero Umiliani. It originally appeared in the Italian film Sweden: Heaven and Hell (Svezia, inferno e paradiso). It was a minor radio hit in the U.S. and in Britain, but became better known in English-speaking countries from its use in a recurring blackout sketch for the 1969-70 season of The Red Skelton Show, the fourteenth episode of  Sesame Street, and the first episode of  The Muppet Show.



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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Autumn Palette







faint autumn colors
as from an artist’s palette
the woodland at rest











____________________________

Photo by Charles Kinnaird
Roupes Creek at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park


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Friday, November 6, 2015

Top Ten Posts for the Week

Autumn view at Aldridge Gardens (photo by Charles Kinnaird)
  
If you look to the right-hand column of this blog page, under "Popular Posts," you can always see what the top ten views for the month are. Here are the top ten posts for the week:


You can see there is a mixture of essay, poetry, music, and humor with some book reviews thrown in as well. Thank you to all who take the time to visit Not Dark Yet. I hope you continue to find this an interesting place in the blogosphere.



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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Thing that Was Different




The Thing that was Different


I had painted that old garage before –
The first time was right after we bought the place.
Something about a new coat of paint
Gave a sense of pride and accomplishment.

The second time was after years of sun, wind and rain
Had pushed that structure to the limit.
Lots of living had taken place
Since the first painting.
We already had boxes
Of family memories
Stored on the shelves inside.

I spent a day scraping the sides of the garage
Clearing off the flakes of peeling paint.
I hired a man to help and
Between the two of us
The old garage shaped up
Good as new.

This time
When the weathered boards
Needed attention
My daughter helped me with the painting.
She had not even been born
The first time I painted this place.

Once again I saw the beauty
Of a fresh coat taking shape.
That familiar satisfaction
Of new paint
Made my heart light.

Yet under the roller I heard the crackle
Of of dry wood.
The thing that was different
Was that I could
Feel it in my body.
I knew how that building felt, soaking up
The moist paint.
I did not recall
Knowing that before.

The old garage
Has steadfastly stood;
Holding tools and projects,
Cherished items and fond memories
Throughout the years.

The thing that was different this time 
Was that after three grand efforts
In the life of the old building,
I did not think that
I would be painting this garage again.

                                                                ~ CK




Monday, November 2, 2015

Monday Music: Dies Irae (Gregorian Chant)

"One of the most famous melodies of the Gregorian Chant, Dies Irae was traditionally ascribed to Thomas of Celano (d 1260), but now is usually attributed to an unknown Franciscan of that period. The piece is based upon Zep 1:14-16, a reflection upon the final judgment. It was formerly part of the Mass of the Dead and the Office of the Dead. Today it is found in the Liturgia Horarum for the last week of Ordinary time (34th). In placing it there, the emphasis is upon the upcoming Advent season and the Second Coming of Christ. In Diocese of the United States, it is still used in the Office of the Dead and the Feast of All Souls (Nov. 2)."






[Note: this post also appears today at Music of the Spheres]


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Sunday, November 1, 2015

For the Day of the Dead: A Meditation on Mortality

Woman by grave during Day of the Dead in San Andres Mixquic, Mexico City

A Meditation on Mortality


“I never thought I’d be eating in Heaven,” he said to his new-found guide. “Well, I’ll take that back. I did imagine that there might be banquets, but I didn’t think I’d still be going to the bathroom to take a crap – oh, I’m sorry, can you say ‘crap’ in Heaven?”

“You can say anything that applies to anything here. And yes, you’ll find that a lot of those concepts we learned, or assumed, in life are not really complete. Heaven and Hell are good examples: the idea that in the afterlife everything would be separated into good and evil, with everyone living with either reward or punishment. Purgatory came a little closer with the notion that aspects of Heaven and Hell could coexists in one place. William Blake may have come the closest, though, when he said that we each carry heaven and hell within us.”

“I guess I’m just surprised that the afterlife is so much like life on earth. I figured that if life did continue after death, it would be completely different – pure bliss and all that.”

“You’ll find that there are some differences,” his guide said, “mostly differences in quality and scale. Rest is more restful, joy is more joyous. On the other hand, pain can also be more painful. You will be continuing the trajectory that you began in life.

Before Life Began

“But if you find that things are similar in the afterlife,” the guide continued, “you must also realize how vastly different things were before life. You heard from your scriptures that ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ That was not really the beginning. It was in some sense, of course. That was your beginning. Those words harked back to where life began. Before there was life, however, there was heaven and earth. There was being itself. Pure being. It scattered across the vast reaches of space without limitation and without end. Except with pure being there was also chaos: turmoil and impulse with no direction. Pure being had no motivation, no guidance, no goal. It could rest listless for an eternity; it could also churn with strife for an eternity.

“Without form and limitation, pure being had no motivation, no hope, and no desire for growth. You can imagine this by looking at your own life. As a child you thought you had a very long time ahead of you. In your youth you knew that there was death and destruction, you just didn’t think it would happen to you.  A few years later you began to acknowledge your own mortality. That understanding of mortality affected what you did, how you learned, and what you deemed important. Your appreciation of friends and loved ones increased as did your appreciation of all of life; the beauty of nature, the joy of music, the wonder of existence.

“So in those distant ages,” his guide went on, “before God created the heavens and the earth, pure being was scattered throughout and would eventually become the framework for the universe. Yet with no end in sight, being had no motivation for growth or change. That is when God created the heavens and the earth. That is when limitations of life and death were set. And that is when things began to happen. In that sense, it was a true beginning.”

Mortality and the Trajectory of Life

“So you are telling me that creation was a beginning, but not the beginning?”

“That is correct. Most significantly, the advent of life and death became the most transformative event in the universe. Prior to life and death, in addition to there being no motivation or growth, there was constant conflict on a cosmic scale. The human race has distant memories of this state in myths such as Tiamet in Sumer, the Titans in Greek cosmology, and the vision of John the Revelator that there was war in Heaven.

“On the day of creation, when life and death entered the cosmos, everything changed. Conflict did not cease, chaos has never been fully contained, but form, meaning, purpose and direction took hold. In order for being to evolve, it must enter into the life-and-death process. That is why the world was made, that is how human civilization began, and that is how you and I came to be at this place at this time.”

“But what now?” he asked. “What happens from here?”

We’ll take some time to talk about how you lived and what direction that life set for you. First, talk to me about how you died.”

“Well, that part seems kind of meaningless. I died in an automobile accident. I was on my way to work, some car ahead swerved into the on-coming traffic, a diesel truck jack-knifed and there I was caught in the middle. I left home in the morning never to return. I know it’s cliché, but I thought I’d have more time. I figured I’d have that warning heart attack to tell me to slow down and that I’d die an old man.”

“And it is also cliché,” his guide responded, “to say that none of us can know how or when we’ll die. The important thing is that even though you may feel that you were snatched from life prematurely, while you were living you set your vision and trajectory. You accomplished in 50 years what pure being could not accomplish in an eternity. There are things we learn within the confines of even a short struggling life that can never be known within the context of infinity.


“Now that you have discovered that life goes on after death, you will soon realize that you have already learned the most important things. The true wonder is not in everlasting life – the wonder is in what you bring with you from that finite existence on earth.  Given the everlasting nature of life, mortality is the only thing of value that can be added to existence.”

                                                                                                                        ~ Charles Kinnaird





Skeletal decoration for Day of the Dead in Morelia, Mexico
photo by Alfonso Martorell (Wikimedia Commons)


"Detail on a piece of art"
photo by  Frank Kovalchek 
(Wikimedia Commons)




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